Thursday, June 13, 2019
by BK Munn
Woodcut by unknown artist from frontispiece to The Excellent and Renowned HISTORY of the Famous Sir Richard Whittington, Three Times Lord-Mayor of the Honourable City of London (1690). This is a relatively “late” retelling of the story of Dick Whittington and his Cat, from a widely-circulated London chapbook. I love that this woodcut has the cat speaking in an early form of comic strip word balloon. These types of emanata are usually called “phylacteries" by art and comics historians, after the scroll-like ribbons of text and speech that first appeared in medieval manuscript illuminations. I wonder how many other early “talking cat” images are out there? There were many similar chapbooks devoted to Aesop’s Fables, plays, ballads, various fairy tales, nursery rhymes, morality tales, etc. Is there a Puss in Boots, witch’s familiar, or some other talking cat with a similar phylactery in a book or painting that pre-dates this one?