Recently the discussion regarding dogs in Italian museums arose in the news as some institutions in Turin let our beloved pets accompany us during our visits. Is it a sign of a civilized country to let dogs in a museum or is it an exaggeration to let barking dogs in a place where, if needed, there’s no “resting” corner for them? Or do dogs’ rights get respected or abused?
In many years of touring in Venice I had a chance to get around with a dog only once and it was fun! We didn’t get in anywhere, just a walking tour with a well behaved friend following us 🙂
Venice is a city that loves dogs and dogs love Venice and its boats! Even if at the moment the possibility to let dogs in museums or to offer a dog sitting service while we visit a museum is not taken into consideration, well, you will be surprised to learn that dogs are certainly not missing in Venetian museums…
Shall we start with the most generous one?
St. Roch and his dog in Scuola San Rocco
In the Scuola of San Rocco the most celebrated sculptor Gerolamo Campagna so imagined St. Roch and his dog. You will remember St. Roch lay sick with bubonic plague when a dog, fearless of the terrible disease, brought to his friend some bread to help him recover. Look how he searches for Roch’s attention, I can imagine him shivering and asking, Roch, do you like the bread I brought you? Do you feel any better today? Why do you keep showing that sore…? I love the montasu bread shape too. It slightly looks like croissants with jam… — which is what you need when you are stricken with bubonic plague. Apart from a loyal dog 🙂
More dogs in the Doge’s Palace
For sure dogs appear in a lot of paintings right because they represent loyalty. And this concept works beautifully for political propaganda, too!
Paolo Caliari, the Veronese, was for several years the official painter of the Venetian State. In the Doge’s palace, in the Collegio hall where foreign ambassadors, monarchs and diplomats engaged themselves in discussions regarding international politics, Paolo Veronese’s representation of the allegory of faithfulness, as one of the virtues of a good government, features a dog watching everyone from above.
Paolo Veronese was surely happy as he loved dogs — just visit the Villa Barbaro in Maser where a whole room is named after the little dog portrayed 🙂
My favourite work by the Caliaris is in the Hall of the Four Doors in the Doge’s palace used as a waiting chamber for the prestigious guests: here we see Shah Abbas the Great with Doge Marino Grimani visiting Venice in 1603. We admire the exchange of gifts to highlight friendship between Venice and Persia and among the silk carpets there appear two dogs, a Saluki Persian greyhound and another one that looks like a setter hound. The goal of the meeting was to involve the Persian Empire to contrast the expansion of the Ottomans…
While walking around the majestic Great Council room, more dogs appear. One powerful Molossus barking in St. Mark’s church (well, ok, a dog in a church next to the pulpit!) while the Doge Enrico Dandolo announces the Fourth Crusade, next to a sleeping drunken man in a painting by LeClerc:
Or at the end of the Fourth Crusade when in the painting by Andrea Vicentino Baldovino becomes Emperor and the two dogs seem to seal with their elegance and beauty the harmony reached —well, surely from the Venetian perspective 😉
Or when the Venetian Doge sails off to fight against the Emperor Barbarossa, the Pope Alexander the 3rd blesses everyone and a dog swims in the lagoon reaching a Venetian sailor who seems to reassure him, he will come back from war safe and sound:
And while Barbarossa kneels in front of the Pope, a dog sits in a regal posture to approve. In fact I find the doge in the painting by Zuccari far too small, while the dog, oh no, the dog looks at them with fierce pride:
Sometimes, however, there is a more disquieting presence: obscene while showing male attributes, the dog is portrayed near a deformed dwarf that holds it by a rope as here in the painting by Del Moro, clearly identifying the dwarf as part of the Pope’s entertainment court’s entourage:
Or close to the Ottomans where the dog is as ugly and terrified as the defeated enemy in despair:
Fluffy, white dogs in the art from the 1400s till nowadays
Finally, there’s a dog that seems to have been always fashionable throughout the centuries since the late 1400s. In Carpaccio’s paintings, there appear many white (fluffy and not) dogs with a red collar. Accompanying Venetian elegant men on their gondolas by Rialto or upper class ladies, if not even St Augustine:
These dogs, almost unchanged if not getting smaller in dimensions, also appear in the laps of Venetian patrician women in Pietro Longhi’s and Francesco Guardi’s paintings two hundred years later. Playing as a symbol of the faithful wife or exactly the opposite, the white miniature sized dogs become as important as a jewel or a fancy fur coat, enhancing the sensuality of a woman, loyal to her dogs but apparently enjoying the presence of more than one man. The dog as a toy and divertissement 🙂
Also in the paintings by Giandomenico Tiepolo the same dogs appear, playing with a thread of pearls stolen from the Queen Sheba or barking at a couple dancing a minuet or enraptured in a wild dance of masked Punchinellos.
A modern version of Cupido or excited for the overwhelming scent of love, dogs bark almost knowing that when the man’s love is gone then they will conquer the woman’s chest if not a privileged spot when resting for eternity… how can we forget you, Peggy!
by Luisella Romeo
registered tourist guide in Venice, Italy