Friday, December 17, 2010

Feline Fridays goes European, Meet La Dogaressa Felina- Guest post by Michelle Lovric

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.

Doge Francesco Morosini (who ruled Venice between 1688 and 1694) loved this cat so much that she accompanied him everywhere, including on his many military campaigns. As commander of the Venetian forces, he took the cat with him to fight the Turks. Among his triumphs was the reconquest of Athens and the Peloponnese, after which he gained the nickname Il Peloponnesiaco (Italian nicknames are often rather long). A sad casualty of that battle was the Parthenon, which the Turks were using as a gunpowder store when Morosini sent a shell in its direction.

The cat’s name or nickname is no longer known. But it is recorded in several places that the great warrior was notoriamente affezionatissimo – notoriously fond – of the creature.

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.

When Doge Morosini’s cat died, he had her embalmed and placed in a box with a rat between her paws. The embalmed body of the cat was kept in his palace at Santo Stefano. In the nineteenth century, the contents and decorations of the palace were put up for sale, but fortunately the Comune of Venice intervened to buy the precious objects, including the body of the cat, which was once displayed in the Correr Museum, although lately it seems to have disappeared from the museum’s records.

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!


  1. Thank you, Michelle, for lighting a candle to the Doge and his cat, for my cat, Biffo.