La Dogaressa Felina December 17
The Cat of Doge Francesco Morosini
This little cat was once the most famous pet in Venice.
Like the winged Syrian cats in The Undrowned Child, she was a feline who went to war.
Morosini never married. The French writer Champfleury wrote: ‘The cat of the great Morosini seems to have been his only great love, other than that of his country.’
For this reason, I have called her ‘Dogaressa’ rather than ‘Miss’ December 17. ‘Dogaressa’ was the word for the wife of the Doge.
Francesco Morosini was not alone in taking his cat on sea voyages. Many ships kept cats in those days, of course, to control the population of rats. Cats have always been the object of affection and superstition among sailors. In The Undrowned Child’s sequel, The Mourning Emporium, there is a ship’s cat called Sofonisba, who teaches young sailors how to predict the weather by reading the motions of her expressive tail. Records in the Venetian archives show that cats were signed on, just like sailors, for duty on naval and merchant expeditions.
Until recently, I thought the trail on Doge Morosini’s cat was dead.
However, a restoration of the Natural History Museum in the Fondaco dei Turchi has resulted in the creation of a Wunderkammer or Cabinet of Curiosities. This includes a mermaid (half a monkey stuffed into half a fish), a stuffed vulture, and a three-legged chicken that used to belong to one of the curators. (It drowned in its waterbowl.) All are artfully arranged to make the cabinet look like the famous room of the collector Ferrante Imperato in Naples.
Now I’m as interested in fake mermaids and real three-legged chickens as the next person. But for me, visiting the newly reopened museum, the most interesting thing of all was to be found in a glass case almost hidden behind other exhibits. Inside the green-lined case was the pinkish embalmed body of a fine cat with athletic back legs and a long muzzle.
And between its paws was a good specimen of a pantegana – a sinewy Venetian rat.
Have I found the mortal remains of Venice’s only feline Dogaressa?
I believe I have.
Want to immerse yourself more in Venetian history and excitement? Pick up one of Michelle's two awesome children's books The Undrowned Child and The Mourning Emporium. Click below to check out my reviews (these are two of my favorite books that I've read this year!):
The Undrowned Child Review
The Mourning Emporium Review
Also check out last weeks Feline Friday goes European post (if you missed it) on Venetian Cat Sanctuaries, and my interview with Michelle Lovric herself!