Within Medieval paintings featuring domestic animals (or any animal), there’s always something ranging from ‘off’ to ‘entirely off-putting’ in representing some of the most common animals around. The most common theory for the inaccuracy is that artists had never encountered the animal and had to use context clues as a result. There was also a limitation in the speed of travel so it was also unrealistic for artists to travel in search of a specific animal in hopes of painting it from memory.
Within my research, there was more focus specifically on medieval cats but I would argue that they are equally as concerning as dogs. Regardless of what animal is being portrayed, the issue stems first from the proportion of the animal. General size can be considered accurate today but the figures are usually squished down to be plump barrels or stretched to better resemble snakes. None of these artists were untalented in any way so it is possible these weird portrayals of animals were intentional or stylistic.
Another theory to why cats were portrayed in such an abnormal light had to do with the belief that cats were connected to pagan religion. Due to Europe’s connection to the Catholic faith, a line of thinking like this dominated medieval European society. In contrast, places like Egypt had a very different relationship with cats and as a result, the animals were preserved more realistically and positively. Cats were commonly associated with the feminine and divine which was honored in some religions but not others. In relation to the European “medieval mindset”, femininity and women were closely associated with Eve and assumed to be untrustworthy and equally as capable of sin.
It is possible that domestic animals of this time were portrayed as abnormal or even anthropomorphic because they were meant to be seen as scary. In contrast to humans and the loyal pets of people during this time, animals in the wild represented the feral elements of society. However, if a wild animal were drawn as scary, it would suggest to the viewer that there was a clear divide between humans, trained animals of the time, and the barbaric “other”.