In the interior of the Villa Barbaro at Maser, where Veronese executed a rich and iconographically complex decorative fresco program about 1561, one of the rooms is traditionally called the Stanza del Cane, after a beautifully rendered little dog occupying a ledge high above the visitor. Veronese’s dogs are painted with such loving attention that they must reflect his own feeling toward animals—a feeling that perhaps is mirrored in the motif of Diana nuzzling one of her Greyhounds in the clouds of the Sala di Olimpo. The abundance and variety of dogs in Veronese’s art make it difficult to attribute specific symbolism to them—they are too numerous and appear in too many diverse settings. Veronese is said to have produced formal “portraits” of individual dogs, including his own, but his only extant painting in which dogs vie with the human figure for prominence is Cupid with Two Dogs (c. 1580–83; Alte Pinakothek, Munich). This painting shows a winged Cupid wearing a golden quiver and holding two black-and-white hunting dogs on a chain, a composition that has been interpreted variously as an allegory of the contrariness of love, faithfulness in love, and the restraint of the animal appetite for love.
This essay is adapted from "An Artist's Best Friend: The Dog in Renaissance and Baroque Painting and Sculpture," by Edgar Peters Bowron in Best in Show: The Dog in Art from the Renaissance to Today (Yale University Press in association with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Bruce Museum of Art and Science); used with permission.
Edgar Peters Bowron is Audrey Jones Beck Curator of European Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Fig. 1: Piero di Cosimo, A Satyr Mourning over a Nymph, c. 1462, The National Gallery, London
Fig. 2: Pisanello, The Vision of Saint Eustace, c. 1455, The National Gallery, London
Fig. 3: Jacopo Bassano, The Good Samaritan, c. 1557, The National Gallery, London
Fig. 4: Jan van Eyck Giovanni Arnolfini and His Wife, 1434, The National Gallery, London