Artibus et Historiae no. 83 (XLII)

2021, ISSN 0391-9064

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BEVERLY LOUISE BROWN - Who Let the Dogs Out: Jacopo Bassano, Naturalism and Prints (pp. 111–145)

In two exceptional paintings by Jacopo Bassano dogs take on a leading role. One, today in the Louvre, was commissioned in 1548 by the Venetian patrician Antonio Zantani, who asked for a painting depicting ‘two Pointers, that is dogs alone’. It is generally assumed that this painting is a naturalistic ‘portrait’ of Zantani’s own canines, although some have attempted to explain it as a moralistic allegory linked to contemporary spiritual beliefs in which dogs were associated with sloth or religious tepidity. Neither of these assumptions can be substantiated and it is well to keep in mind that throughout the Renaissance dogs could take on a number of diverse symbolic roles. The second slightly later painting in the Uffizi depicts two different but equally realistic dogs within the familiar rural landscape of Jacopo’s hometown Bassano del Grappa. These dogs can be shown to have been copied verbatim from a woodcut in the volume on quadrupeds in Conrad Gessner’s encyclopedic Historiae animalium, which was published in Zurich in 1551. The picture is not a transparent window onto the real world. Jacopo’s two seemingly similar pictures raise the question of how one should differentiate between perfectly presented naturalism and simple replication.

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