Two Children Teasing a Cat Annibale Carracci Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Annibale Carracci predominantly painted religious scenes in the form of frescoes – widely acknowledged as the test of skill for an artist – but he also had a sharply observant eye, a fantastic, slightly sardonic sense of humour and a sense that his art should capture the world around him as well as paying homage to the stories and legends of the past, both ancient Greek and Biblical.

He produced a series of canvases that capture snap-shot moments of life, telling a story so quickly and subtly that the viewer is only aware of their own visceral reaction to the painting until they have had taken the time to examine the work and pick out the features and hints that produce that opinion. In this 1588 – 1590 work, Two Children Teasing a Cat, the viewer, even if not a fan of felines, is annoyed with the children. The children, a boy and a smaller girl are tormenting a cat – or, at least, the boy is while the girl watches with rapt attention. The realisation that the boy is playing with a scorpion or two, dangling it in front of the cat to either make it sting the cat or to make the cat lash out at the insect only adds to the awfulness of the situation – and makes the viewer long for the scorpion to sting the children to boot!

The cat seems annoyed, its face reflecting how put upon it feels, while the boy's posture is misleading. One hand on the cat's back, seemingly in a caress, he could be holding the animal in position, while the other could be dangling a treat for the cat – clearly, a scorpion is no treat for anyone. The boy is smiling, as though his own actions amuse him, his gaze fixed on the cat, as he waits to see what it will do next, especially as it seems the scorpion's pincher is touching, perhaps gripping, the cat's ear. The little girl is leaning in, one hand on the shoulder of the boy – perhaps her brother – while the other rests on the table in front of the cat, fairly close to the other scorpion which is so close in colour to the table that it almost blends into the surface.

Her eyes are greedy and avid, her mouth curved into a cruel smile, and the end of her nose is reddened, almost like that of a caricatured drunk: she is not a pretty child by any means. In fact, neither child is prepossessing, a fact enhanced by the careful delicacy of their dress which indicates that they are the off-spring of nobles... This caricature-like statement, found in many of Carracci's paintings, have seen him credited with being the inventor of the exaggerated and sometimes cruel satirical artform. See this painting, in oils on canvas and measuring a mere 25.1 inches by 35 inches, hanging in The Met in New York.

Two Children Teasing a Cat in Detail Annibale Carracci