In early modern Western art, cats are often depicted in a negative light.

For instance, some works on the popular biblical theme of the Annunciation show the cat slinking away in fear from the Archangel Gabriel who has come to inform the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and bear the Son of God.

The cat was considered as an "incarnation of the Devil" back then, according to the book "Mochiifu de Yomu Bijutsushi" (History of art as seen through motifs) by art historian Kikuro Miyashita.

One painting shows a feline trying to grab food from the table while a woman says grace, distracting her in her moment of silent prayer.

Dogs, on the other hand, symbolized loyalty. They were frequently placed unobtrusively in wedding portraits.

Many motifs in Western art bear unmistakable meanings, and Cupid is one.

A recently restored Vermeer "salvaged" this god of erotic love who had remained obliterated under layers of paint. The restoration was carried out at a German art museum, using X-ray analysis.

The work is "Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window."

From Cupid's presence in the background, it can be surmised that the letter being read is a love missive.

From their analysis, the restorers concluded that it was not Vermeer who painted over Cupid and made him disappear. Then who did it, and why? This remains a mystery.

The blank space left by Cupid's removal has enabled viewers to use their imagination. Was the sender of the letter the girl's lover or family? And did it bring happy news or sad news? There is much room for speculation.

Whenever a restored work of art acquires a "refreshed" look, I am not exactly sure what to think.

I wonder if it is always best to restore it fully to its original, pristine condition, or whether the work is better appreciated for what it is now, with all the signs of degradation accrued over time.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 11

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.