Goethe, the Cat and God the Father

25 december 1786
[…] And yet, what a joy it is to enter in a caster’s workshop and watch the exquisite limbs of the statues coming out of the moulds one after the other. It gives one a completely fresh view of the figures. All the statues which are scattered over Rome can here be seen set side by side. This is invaluable for purposes of comparison. I could not resist buying the cast of a colossal head of Jupiter. It now stands in a good light facing my bed, so that I can say prayers to him the first thing in the morning. However, for all his majesty and dignity, he has been the cause of a comic incident.
When our old landlady comes in to make our beds, she is usually accompanied by her favourite cat. I was sitting outside in the hall and heard her busying herself in my room. Suddenly she flung the door open— to hurry is not like her— and called to me to come quickly and witness a miracle. When I asked her what had happened, she replied that her cat was worshipping God the Father.
She had noticed for some time that the creature had the intelligence of a Christian, but, even so, this was a miracle. I ran into the room to see for myself, and it really was miraculous. The bust stands on a high pedestal, and the body is cut off far below the chest, so that the head is near the ceiling. The cat had jumped up on a high pedestal, placed its paws on the chest of the God and stretched itself up until its muzzle could just reach the sacred beard, which it was now gracefully licking, oblivious of the exclamations of the landlady on my entrance.
I did not spoil the enthusiasm of the good woman by telling her my own explanation for this strange feline devotion. Cats have keen sense of smell and probably it had scented the grease from the mould, some of which still remained sunk in the grooves of the beard. 
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Italian Journey (1786-1788)
I love this interesting and curious story reported by Goethe since the first time I read Italian Journey.
The grease, that the poet is most likely appoint, was the lard that the casters used at that time as a release agent between the plaster mold and the new plaster cast that was realized. There is another reason that may have attracted the cat to lick the cast of Jupiter. Until the nineteenth century, the plaster casts could be patinated with milk and talc.
If the bust of Jupiter was patinated in this way, I believe that the cat has been attracted by the scent of milk too.
Goethe loved so much classical art, and during his roman stay acquired many plaster casts till to have a beautiful collection at his house in Weimar.
During the years of the Grand Tour, in Rome, was possible to buy fine replicas of classic art and quality plaster casts directly in the workshops of mould makers, some of them were located very close to the accommodation of Goethe to the al Corso (actual via del Corso) between Piazza del Popolo and the Roman Forum, where obviously had placed so many ateliers of sculptors and painters. Some of the most famous mold makers in Rome at that time were Giuseppe Torrenti and Antonio Ceci with their shops in the same area.