Doggo is in the Art

November 01, 2020


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Whether you like dogs or not, they are probably more famous than you'll ever get. They hold the crown to being one of the most depicted animals in human history-- err, next to cats, of course. They are "humanity's bestfriend", after all. I adopted four in my younger years, and they were the superstars in a few sketches and paintings of mine. Who wouldn't love having them at the centerpiece of one's artwork or making them the heroine of one's epic novel? Through the years, our bestfriends emerged in paintings, illustrations, sculptures, literature, music, and theatre... you name it.

Painterly Pooches

Beauties Wearing Flowers by Zhou Fang, Tang Dynasty

Canine paintings were oftentimes subjective and associated with something personal. Most common in self-portraits, such as Louis Meijer's depiction of his dog seated on his lap and Gustave Courbet's self-portrait with a black spaniel, European artists will have their dogs painted by their sides. The upperclass will have dogs lifted in a pedestal with kennel clubs everywhere. These dogs were thought to have been bred with an antiquated belief on pet ownership to fit society's "needs", so to speak. Paintings of Sir Edwin Landseer, children of Charles I of England, and Sir Edward Hales were among some samples. Earlier artworks dated back to the Tang Dynasty with a painting by Zhou Fang and the one with Diogenes by Jean-Léon Gérôme.

Barking in Fiction

Red Xolotl from the Codex Borgia

And who would forget dogs in fiction? We all loved Toto in the Wizard of Oz and Nana in Peter Pan and other famous pooches in Classical Literature. Even in earlier times, dogs were depicted in folklore and mythology. I remember an old book I used to enjoy reading in the Philippines. The protagonist, called Bantay, a noble dog who guards and takes care of his family, is an icon in Philippine children's literature. In Chinese mythology, dogs commonly appear in many paintings and sketches as a revered motif in some areas in China. In most of its literary history, dogs existed in several anecdotal accounts as far back as the Jin Dynasty. Dogs were similarly depicted in Mesoamerican folklore, like the "hairless dog", Xoloitzcuintli, and typically associated with deities and rituals, like the dog-headed god, Xolotl.  In Greek mythology, Zeus' gift to Europa, Laelaps, appeared in The Death of Procris.

Carving the Canine

Roman mosaic of a watchdog at Casa di Paquius Proculus, Pompeii

Various depictions of humanity's bestfriend appeared in other forms of arts and crafts, normally in illustrations, sculptures and pottery, as they were deeply embedded in the fabrics of human society. Famous among them were found in ancient Greek black figure ceramics between 510-500 BC, the Japanese miniature sculptures netsuke of the Edo Period, the Roman terracota statues or models in 125 AD, and the woodcut illustration, say, Edward Topsell's piece created in 1658, among others.

Best Friend of Art

Gerrit Dou, Sleeping Dog, 1650

Our beloved dogs have threaded and endured the path of human history since time immemorial and witnessed centuries-old cultures and lore. Contemporary art equally demonstrates humanity's fascination with our canine BFF. Take for example Guennadi Kalinitchenko's "Princess 'Bride'", Carmen Delaco's "dogs i", or any of the modern dog art which delight art lovers of today.

Feature image: Patricia Srigley | Pixabay

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