18th Century Venetian Street Trades: The Cat Gelder

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by Robin Saikia blog

This plate is from an important and entertaining book published in Venice in the mid-eigthteenth century, Tratto da Le arti che vanno per via nella città di Venezia (Venetian Street Traders would be a suitable short title), with engravings by Gaetano Gherardo Zompini. It shows an itinerant tinker who would sell or repair pots and pans, but was also prepared to neuter your cat – hence he came to be known colloquially as the Castragatti, the Cat Gelder. Rats were and still are a big nuisance in Venice, so the community was faced with the double challenge of keeping cats as a deterrent but also trying to keep down the increasingly out-of-control colony of feral cats. Thus the Castragatti played an important part in city life. Below we see the Inchiostro, the ink vendor, who also sells rat poison. Note the gruesome dead rats he uses to advertise his wares, and the terrified child.

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