The black smoke stains on the inside of this porcelain cat indicate that it was used as a night light. Light shone through its open mouth and eyes, giving it an otherworldly look. Indeed, with its stylised body and turquoise colour, this cat was never intended to look realistic.
The bright colour was obtained by glazing, a technique that first appeared in China in the 14th century and was developed during the 17th century. It was highly prized by European connoisseurs, who sought out these animal-shaped pieces until the late 19th century. The East India Company did a roaring trade importing such pieces.
These imports ending up influencing European work, as can be seen in certain porcelains made in Meissen, which depict Asian animals. While oriental civilisations attributed great symbolic significance to these animals, in Europe they were prized more for their decorative aspect.