Monday, October 2, 2017

The Dog at the Last Supper (Franciscan Monastery, Hvar, Croatia)

Detail of Last Supper of Matteo Ingoli, Hvar
Matteo Ingoli, born in Ravenna between 1585 and 1587, worked in and near Venice, but died young when a plague hit northern Italy in 1631. Among the relatively small number of works commonly attributed to him is a Last Supper in the Franciscan Monastery at Hvar, Croatia, which I had the opportunity to photograph in September 2017 (no flash was the only restriction at the Monastery museum). The Last Supper was a theme Ingoli may have painted several times. Another treatment of the subject is in the church of St. Apollinare at Ravenna. As will be discussed further below, the attribution of the Hvar painting to Ingoli continues to be disputed.

The painting is in serious need of restoration. Ingoli’s current standing among Renaissance artists, however, is probably not such that any institution would easily commit the necessary funds. Nevertheless, the depiction of the Last Supper is unique in including a dog, which can be seen if you move to the extreme right of the painting and look carefully into the darkened area where the animal comes from behind a pillar next to a beggar lying on the floor beside the table on which the meal has been served. 

Because of the overly bright flood lights in the room of the monastery where this Last Supper takes up an entire wall, I was unable to get a full shot of the painting that is worth posting here. Ingoli's Last Supper in Ravenna has been more extensively studied and good photography of it is widely available, but for the one in Hvar I could find no good reproduction of the entire painting online.

Could There Have Been a Dog at the Last Supper?

No dog is mentioned in any of the gospel narratives of the Last Supper, but the gospel writers were certainly familiar with the presence of dogs at places where people were eating. In Matthew 15:27, a woman says to Jesus that dogs eat scraps that fall from the master’s table, while the variation of the parable at Mark 7:28 refers to dogs under the table eating the children’s scraps. (Such situations need not be accidental. Almost anyone who grows up with dogs remembers slipping something unappealing to a willing accomplice under the dinner table.)  

Detail of Last Supper of Matteo Rosselli
The dog at Hvar has its right leg slightly lifted. Although my eye is untrained in such matters, I am inclined to think this is more a begging posture than an attempt by the painter to suggest that the dog is walking forward. The apostle at the end of the table is preparing to drop something into the bowl the beggar stretches towards him and the dog may be hoping to be the next recipient of the apostle's generosity. 

Who is the sympathetic apostle? The order the figures in Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper in Milan is known from the artist’s notebooks. For da Vinci, the figure on the extreme right was Simon the Zealot, though there is no beggar in his version. Somewhere in the annals of Renaissance research there must be a study of the order of apostles in the countless depictions of the Last Supper, but whether there would be any discussion of Ingoli's painting in Hvar is more than doubtful. Hopefully the joy of visiting Hvar in the summer (with its wonderful beaches and great but reasonably priced restaurants) will appeal to some art historian and the painting will in time receive renewed attention from the art world.

Other Artists Who May Have Painted the Last Supper in Hvar

The monastery caption to the painting in Hvar notes that the work was formerly attributed to Matteo Rosselli (1579 – 1651). Curiously, Matteo Rosselli painted a Last Supper (1613 – 1614) and included a cat before the table. Here I have extracted a detail of the cat from a reproduction posted by Wikimedia Commons. This painting is currently in the Conservatorio di San Pier Martire in Florence. Another painter with the last name of Rosselli, named Cosimo (who, that I can tell on minimal research, was unrelated to Matteo), had, more than a century earlier (c. 1481-2), put two cats at the Last Supper in a panel of the Sistine Chapel. Other attributions of the painting in Hvar include Matteo Ponzone or the school of Palma il Giovane. Ponzone is credible as his brother was archbishop of Split from 1616 to 1640 and he worked much of his life in Dalmatia.

Shepherds with dog on Nativity Facade, Sagrada Familia (Barcelona)
Dogs in Biblical Scenes 

There is a long and honored tradition of placing animals in depictions of biblical events. Both the architect, Antoni Gaudi (1852 – 1926), and the French painter, Octave Penguilly-L'Haridon (1811 – 1872), place sheep dogs with the shepherds coming to the manger in Bethlehem. While Penguilly-L'Haridon modeled the dogs of the shepherds on sheep dogs he had seen with Bedouin herds on a visit to the Holy Land, Gaudi instead used a Catalan sheep dog as his canine model for the Nativity Facade of the Sagrada Familia. There is also a dog on the Passion Facade of the great church in Barcelona, though that one has a much harsher aspect. I photographed both dogs in 2015.

On a personal note, when editing the manuscripts of Jacob Watts, there were a number of fragments that did not seem to belong anywhere. One of those fragments was a description of the Last Supper by one of the servants of the man in whose house the Passover meal was served (Mark 14:12 – 17). The servant tells the story decades after the event., In The Field of Ghosts, which takes place in the reign of Nero thirty years after the execution of Jesus, Watts has several characters with memories of encounters with Jesus, but the Last Supper fragment did not seem to fit easily into any of those accounts. I will continue to look for a place to put this passage.

Conclusion

Art history perhaps focuses too consistently on the great artists, on those with a large opus who have been studied and revered for generations, leaving aside those whose skills were high but who never acquired a reputation sufficient to put their works in the best museums or onto the toniest auction blocks. Such is the case with Matteo Ingoli, whose works make up a short list, and without any current scholar telling the art world that a minor genius has been relegated to undeserving obscurity.  Nevertheless, he has done dog lovers a favor by placing a dog in the midst of a pivotal moment in the seminal history of a great religion. I have contacted several art historians familiar with the painters to whom the Hvar Last Supper has been attributed. Should I learn anything more, I will revise this blog. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Monograph on Dogs of California Aboriginal Cultures Published

I have completed a monograph, published by the Land of Oaks Institute in the California Cultures Monograph Series (ISSN 2333-9667), which can be downloaded at no cost in iBook or pdf format. Go the the website for the Series and scroll down to the list of monographs. It is the most recent one posted. By drilling down, you will come to a page that offers the two download options.

What surprised me as I went through hundreds of ethnographic sources was that even by 1900, when Professor Alfred Kroeber began studying the tribes of California intensely, he and his colleagues and graduate students at Berkeley had to rely on historical sources and informant memories to describe what the dogs of the tribes used to look like. Their photographs of Native Americans, which often included dogs, almost invariably showed dogs of identifiable European breeds or mixed breeds, with very little indication of surviving aboriginal canine genetics. This is, of course, consistent with a growing body of genome research indicating limited survival of pre-European contact types of dogs in the Americas. The reasons for the largescale disappearance of most aboriginal canine types are very complex, even within the 83 California tribal groups studied by Kroeber and other ethnographers, including Spanish priests leaving out poison for dogs so that tribes would become more dependent on their missions and genocide of Native Americans and their dogs who were living too close to mining operations. Not all the blame for the disappearance of aboriginal dogs lies with conquistadors, missionaries, settlers, and miners, however, since some tribes began to prefer European dogs for hunting deer and elk, particularly in the northern and mountainous parts of the state.

This is a topic I will be pursuing on a broader scale for the Americas.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Apology to Readers

Some readers have noticed that I have not been keeping up this blog in recent months. This has been the result of pressure from several publishers to meet overdue deadlines. I had hoped to resume writing blogs by now, but it has become apparent that I will be lucky to get back to these occasional musings by the end of 2017. In addition to not writing, I will also not be be able to respond to, or for the time being even read, comments submitted by my readers. I apologize for any inconvenience and look forward to having more time, hopefully in 2018. -- John Ensminger