|Angora, by Weir|
Using the same trade routes that bypassed the Siamese cat in Southeast Asia, merchants brought long-haired cats to Europe in the Middle Ages. The cats apparently came from mainland Asia and eastern Europe (Turkey and Russia), and were called, with some lack of specificity, Angoras, Persians, and Russians.
Tradition says that Pietro Della Valle (1586-1652) brought the cats from Khorasan, Persia, back to his home in Italy in 1620. At about the same time, Nicholas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc (1580-1623) brought cats from Angora, now Ankera, to France. Khorasan cats were gray, while those from Angora were white.
I translated an excerpt of L'Historie Naturelle, generale et particuliere (volume VI, pages 11-13), written by Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788). He was a French naturalist, mathematic, biologist, author, and apparently an exotic cat breeder, in the French hayday of that craze. He writes as if he is quoting Della Valle, and seems to mix the story of the Persians and the Angoras. In a practical sense, it doesn't matter because by that time, the cats almost assuredly had been interbred. Most interesting is his description of what we now know is temperature-sensitive albinism, which must have intrigued him as a biologist. Even as he was being a scientist, though, he was not above making a very commercial plug for the cats.
“There is in Persia a breed of cats which are originally from the province of Chorazan; their size and form is like an ordinary cat; their beauty consists in their color and in their fur, which is gray without any blotching or pattern, of the same color on their whole body, only a little darker on the back and the head, and lighter on the chest and belly, which sometimes gets nearly white. The contrast makes for a wonderful effect, say the artists.”
I’ll include the French here because I believe he is using a technical art term: “avec ce tempérament agréable de clair-obscur, comme parlent les Peintres qui, mêlés l’un dans l’autre, font un merveilleux effet.”
And then I have to stop here: The cat is prized as a work of art! Leonardo Da Vinci said it: “The smallest feline is a masterpiece.”