A Painted Treatise on Cats From 19th Century Thailand


This manuscript containing 12 paintings of different types of cats is in the format of a samut khoi, a Thai folding book that opens from top to bottom. It was made in the 19th century in central Siam (now Thailand) by an unknown artist.

Such folding books were typically made from the bark of mulberry trees; minerals, plant liquids, and occasionally materials imported from China and Europe were used as paints. Sometimes the paper was blackened with lampblack or lacquer to make the paper stronger and more resistant to damage by insects or humidity.

Each painting comes with a short caption in which descriptions of the features of different types of cats a given, plus a note explaining what effect keeping this cat might have on its owner.

There was a strong belief that certain types of cats could bring good luck, prosperity, or health to the owner, whereas other types of cats were regarded as unlucky and to be avoided.

For example, a white cat with nine black spots, auspicious green eyes, and a strong and beautiful voice was regarded as a lucky cat. It was said that however poor the owner of this cat might be, he or she would become a respected person and gain a high social status.


The breeding of the famous Siamese cats was originally reserved for the royal family. Certain cats also were believed to be the “keepers” of Buddhist temples, which resulted in these cats being closely guarded and highly revered.

Several breeds of cats from Siam are also described and illustrated in manuscripts called “Tamra Maew” (Cat Poems), estimated to have been written from the 14th to the 18th century


Treatise on Cats. Treatise on Cats.
Treatise on Cats.

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