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Dogs and art

There is a long tradition of dogs in art. It seems that as long as people have endeavoured to capture their world pictorially, dogs have been part of that picture. Dogs are depicted on cave walls, for example, and this recently restored mosaic in Pompeii—which was buried by lava in AD 79—attests to the close domestic relationship between people and dogs that has existed for thousands of years.

Dogs have been depicted in art in many roles:

  • in service roles, where they helped with the hunt or offered protection
  • as symbols of loyalty and fidelity
  • as companions

I thought it would be fun to take a look at a few examples of dogs in art over the next few weeks. Today, I’m sharing Titian’s Venus of Urbino, which was painted in 1538. It depicts Venus, lounging gracefully in a Renaissance palace. There are serving women in the background—maybe they’re looking for Venus’s clothes. ;) A small dog is curled up on the bed with Venus. The painting was commissioned by the Duke of Urbino to mark the occasion of his marriage. The dog is included in this domestic scene as a symbol of fidelity in marriage.

It's a beautiful painting of course, full of grace, elegance, and also erotic power. In fact, its power brought Mark Twain great discomfort when he first saw it. Writing about it in A Tramp Abroad, he called it "the foulest, the vilest, the obscenest picture the world possesses." The dog seems unconcerned.

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