Among the elite of 18th-century French aristocrats, the exotic and elegant Turkish Angora with it's long, silky white fur and heavenly tale was the cat of choice. A sign of refinement and luxury in the French royal court, the Angora or Ankara cat is an ancient, natural breed of cats originating in the Orient. The first documented specimens of the breed were brought to France in the 17th century by a French naturalist and came from Ankara, Turkey, thus the name Angora. (Angoras might have been first introduced to Europe by returning Crusaders as early as the 14th century, however.) Louis XIII (1601-1643) and his minister, Cardinal Richelieu, owned them, as did the Sun King, Louis XIV (1638-1715).
So did Marie-Antoinette (1755-1793). Her pet Angora cats were believed to have been shipped along with a cargo of French furnishings in a foiled plan to escape to America, and arrived in Wiscasset, Maine. Popular lore has it that her Angoras cross-bred with local cats and are ancestors of the Maine Coon cat. Another view, however, is that the Maine Coon has as its ancestral origins the Norwegian Forest cat which would have been introduced into the New World by 11th-century Norseman. But the Norwegian Forest cat's long-haired origins get tangled up, too, with the Turkish Angora breed. Still another hypothesis is that an English sea captain named Charles Coon kept long-haired cats aboard and when docked at ports in New England, his cats would jump ship and mate with local short-hairs. Unless the Maine Coon is a natural breed of cat native to the northeastern American seaboard, then one could surmise that the Angora, being the first long-haired cat to arrive in Europe, could be the granddaddy of them all. The Maine Coon today is the most popular purebred cat in France.
The great French decorative artist and painter, Jean-Jacques Bachelier (1724-1806), immortalized an Angora in the above painting, Le Chat Angora Guettant un Papillon. The portrait hangs in the Musée Lambinet in Versailles. A favorite painter of both Louis XV (1710-1774) and his mistress, Madame de Pompadour, Bachelier was revered for his animal portraits and still lifes.
guettant: lying in wait for, watching out for
un mythe culturel: a cultural myth, lore
©2016 P.B. Lecron