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Year of the Dog

Without question this is the year of the dog — be it over in Shanghai, in Chinatowns across America or right here in Greenwich at the Bruce Museum. While Bruce benefactors are busy raising money to relocate the town dog pound situated somewhat inappropriately on the front lawn, inside the museum the walls are hung with a colorful tribute to our canine friends.
Dogs in art are nothing new.

Considered the most devoted of all domesticated animals, they appeared on Gothic illuminated manuscripts; they were carved on tombs lying at the feet of their masters in the Middle Ages; and the hounds of the upper crust were depicted in hunting scenes during the Renaissance. It is said that fifteenth-century artist Francesco Bonsignori painted such a realistic portrait of a dog that one of his own attacked the canvas. Toy breeds were painted as ladies’ comforters and as symbols of female seductiveness; greyhounds and mastiffs stood for male virility.

In due course, the Medicis’ court painter Justus Sustermans and Flemish artist Frans Snyders began concentrating on the animal alone, creating a whole new category of painting. But with or without their masters and mistresses, dogs have been celebrated in art for centuries as symbols of nobility and strength, of savagery and promiscuity, of loyalty and obedience. Admittedly their
history in art is one of complex interpretation, but it is fascinating. They reflected the life of their times, giving us a peek into ballrooms, brothels, shops, kitchens and churches, and we are richly rewarded.

Best in Show: Dogs in Art from the Renaissance to the Present, featuring the work of such artists as Stubbs, Gainsborough and Warhol, runs through August 27.     — Donna Moffly