Two Children Teasing a Cat

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Annibale Caracci, Two Children Teasing a Cat, 1590

As artists battled and created in the 16th century, challenges were created from peer to peer to push these talents to their peak. Carracci and fellow painters discussed the impossibility of painting a figure in the act of laughter. From the lines on the face to the position of the features, the task seemed impossible. Harder still, suggested an artist of the time, was to depict a figure in the act of crying. Expression, color of the eyes, and painting of the actual tears themselves would be beyond difficult. Caracci, however, made up for in smarts what he lacked in artistic ability when she painted Two Children Teasing a Cat.

Two figures, most likely a brother and a sister, smugly provoke a cat with scorpions. The result is inevitable. Tease a cat, you will be scratched. Viewers can see the scene play out. The first child to be scratched will cry and wail while the sibling will likely laugh at the other’s misfortune, before being ultimately scratched themselves. There is little room for debate regarding the ultimate outcome. The child will be scratched, the child will cry. So, he did it. Without painting any tears, or laughs, or even teeth, we see the figures in these acts. By painting just one moment in the scene, Carracci has enough to play it display it in its entirety, an incredible artistic and intellectual feat.

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