Madonna With The Cat

Madonna With The Cat -- Noya Collection, Savona
Madonna with the Cat
Noya Collection, Savona

Madonna of the Cat is in the collection of industrialist Carlo Noya, in Savona. Up until relatively recent times it was considered that this painting probably never went beyond Leonardo's sketches, or if it did, that the work had most certainly been lost or destroyed.

Carlo Noya then pointed out the strong resemblance between some of Leonardo's drawings and a painting in his collection. Previously in very bad condition it required much restoration, including repairing a crack in the panel, controlling background flaking, and restoring the colours so they are closer to original. After close examination it was attributed to Leonardo due to the style, technique and composition. A radiographic examination has cast no doubts on this decision.

Despite all of this, queries remain over the artist and the painting's provenance is unknown. It could still be that the original work was lost and this is a replica based on Leonardo's drawings.

The subject comes from a legend which says a cat gave birth at the moment of the nativity. Leonardo experimented with a series of drawings showing the cat in various positions. These date from 1480-1481 and have the cat being cuddled, stroked and even half strangled. This form of quick sketching later became the norm for artists, but in Leonardo's time it was somewhat unusual.