Tag Archives: Italy

Sighthounds in the Art of the Ancient World


The Townley Greyhounds

The Townley Greyhounds


The artistic expression of human relationships with animals has been and remains deeply complex and shifting. From the shaggy predators of the Lascaux Cave paintings to the costumed, hyperreal Weimareiners in the photos of William Wegman, the canine form has been especially popular with artists as both an ad hoc subject and a highbrow icon. A particular type of dog, the Cirneco dell Aetna, or Italian Greyhound, appears quite often in the art of ancient Greece and Rome, enjoying a commonality shared only with cattle and horses.

The Italian Greyhounds, however (as we shall call them henceforth), literally crossed the threshold in the ancient world, entering households not as steeds for work and war or sacrificial offerings, but as companions and objects of beauty.


The aim of this paper is to point out for consideration some examples of Italian Greyhound imagery from several ancient eras and geographical locations, to describe the history of this breed of dog in relation to its popularity in Greece and Italy, to draw a few conclusions about the dogs’ visual evolution and the reasons for its prevalence, and to show how both the animal and its image continued as both an influence and a viable species beyond the end of the Roman Empire. A starting point is to describe the nature and appearance of the Italian Greyhound, a species which exists fundamentally unchanged from its earliest days.

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Capitoline Wolf

Do you love Lupa Capitolina? Then you are going to be extremely happy with the forthcoming manifesto on the Capitoline Wolf.

Today at her home at the Capitoline Museum the wolf has many admirers, visitors whose fingers itch to twirl the regular, S-shaped curls of her mane and to caress her sinewy legs, her elegant tufted paws, and her smooth, distended udders. The infinitely abundant images of the wolf on Rome-affiliated merchandise seem to increase rather than dilute the potent aura of the statue herself. What is it about the she-wolf that makes her so compelling?
Scholarship on the origin of disputed bronzes such as Lupa Capitolina (in fact the origin of a number of works including some Etruscan hand mirrors is contested) tend to focus on issues of the absolute. Are the bronzes authentically Etruscan, Roman copies, or 19th Century knockoffs? Do they come from a single workshop? Are they cast by one artist and engraved by another? Whom were these objects made for? Were they part of one group?
I take it as a good thing that, even despite the most thorough scrutiny of Lupa Capitolina imaginable, we do not have answers to any of these questions about her, nor are we likely to find them. No matter what technology can eventually answer about when she was made, Lupa will be able to keep a lot to herself, rendering her enduring mystique, even in its ubiquity, largely impenetrable. Yet this does not mean that questions cannot or should not be asked of or about the wolf; there is satisfaction, not frustration, in this type of open-endedness.
Stay tuned…

Don’t Cry, Work

Unidentified Coastal Organism

It’s June 2010.

“The end of history involves, then, an ‘epilogue’ in which human negativity is preserved as a ‘remnant’ in the form of eroticism, laughter, joy in the face of death. In the uncertain light of this epilogue, the wise man, sovereign and self-conscious, sees not animal heads passing again before his eyes but rather the acephalous figures of the hommes farouchement religieux, ‘lovers,’ or ‘sorcerer’s apprentices.’ ”
— Giorgio Agamben, The Open: Man and Animal, (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004), 7.