Monday, March 21, 2016

Fat Cat Art: Famous Masterpieces Improved by a Ginger Cat with Attitude by Svetlana Petrova and Zarathustra the Cat

Reviewed by Jeanne

It’s no secret that I like cats—a lot—so friends tend to send me links to various memes, videos, or stories.  Back a few years ago, one such link led me to an amazing assortment of Old Master paintings which had a very large, very orange cat added to them.  It was easier to see why Mona Lisa was smiling: I would, if I was also cuddling a fat cat.  Periodically, someone else would discover this site and send me a link and every time I’d go back and look again.  

So imagine my delight to find that there is now a book collecting not only the ones I’d seen, but a whole host of new (at least to me) images!

In the preface, artist Petrova explains that Zarathustra was her late mother’s cat.  Missing her mother, a friend suggested that she use Zarathustra in her art as a way of coping with her grief so Petrova started using Photoshop to insert the feline into famous paintings.  She put a few online and more or less forgot about them until someone told her that her work was everywhere on the Internet.  Happily, she continued to produce images and this book is the result.

Roman Art
The book is divided up the same way that any art text book might be, by time period and then by geographic area.  It begins with ancient and medieval art, so there is the great Zarathustra adorning the wall of a cave alongside a prehistoric horse, integrated into a Roman mosaic, and as part of the Bayeux Tapestry.  The book has the added bonus of commentary straight from the horse’s—er, cat’s – mouth as to the origins of the particular piece.  Naturally, he employs the majestic plural as he describes the particular piece and its origin.  He also adds pieces of advice, as when he notes under the Egyptian piece “Hunting in the marshes” from the Tomb of Nebaumun:

“The Internet is a lot like ancient Egypt; people write on ‘walls’ expressing their worship of Cats.  Please, humans, don’t just write on walls.  Take the time to actually worship your Cats, please.  Right now, please go and give a good belly rub to your kitty.”

Cave Art
The book proceeds through the Italian Renaissance, Dutch and Flemish art in the 17th century, Spanish and British art in the 17th and 18th centuries, and so forth.  It’s a glorious trip through art history. The illustrations have to be seen to be believed; words do not do them justice.  Petrova has been careful to match pose and lighting so that Zarthustra seems a natural part of the painting, and to print the pieces onto canvas, supplemented with appropriate pigments, oils, and gels to match the original.  In fact, this attention to detail caused a problem with a customs agent who believed that the painting was a true old master. 

Russian Art
I can’t say that I blame him.  The work is so convincing that it’s easy to believe that they are indeed real.  Who knew that da Vinci’s painting was really entitled Lady with a Cat Pretending to be an Ermine? Or that James McNeil Whistler’s composition was originally called Arrangement in Gray, Black, and Ginger? And my image of David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps is now forever altered, as is Washington Crossing the Delaware by Leutze. Thank goodness the rebel troops had a fat orange cat to both keep them warm and guide them.

Patriotic Art
For those who are rolling their eyes at this point, let me add that these are best enjoyed by those who know the original artwork.  I was as fascinated by the art that I didn’t recognize as those pieces I did, and was intrigued enough to look up the originals—which is what Petrova hoped people would do. Opinions may differ, but other than my dear old Art History professor Betty Gilliam, I can’t think of a better guide to the world of classic art than an orange, egocentric, fat cat.

Gothic Art
While you’re waiting for the book, check out  Besides a lovely assortment of “improved” paintings, there are usually links to various galleries for views of the less adorned versions.

"It's about time feline art received its due!" ~ Elmer


  1. I've seen some of these but WOW! A BOOK!!

    1. Yes, Clea, WOW, indeed! (Oh, and I'm reading your Code Grey right now. Loving it, and hoping you will not take Dulcie et al away from us?) And thank you to Svetlana Petrova and Zarathustra the Cat for these wonderful images!

  2. I wish the book was in a coffee table format, like my other art books. But, it's only the beginning. Zarathustra will take over art, and the Internet!

    1. Maybe the next book will be a coffee table format!

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