Animals in the paintings of the Stuard Art Gallery

Animal paintings in religious and historical works and genre portraits

Virgin and Child Enthroned (First half of the 14th century) by Maestro della MisericordiaPinacoteca Stuard

Virgin and Child enthroned

Since ancient times, artists have represented animals - domestic and wild - in their works as protagonists or supporting characters and often connoting them with symbolic values. In the halls of the Stuard Art Gallery one of the first animals we meet is the goldfinch placed on the index finger of the Virgin, in the fourteenth-century panel with a gold background entitled “Virgin and Child enthroned”, attributed to the Master of Mercy. According to legend, the goldfinch’s face was stained red with a drop of Jesus blood, in an attempt to extract some thorns from the crown, and its feathers would have kept the red color forever. The presence of the goldfinch in the painting thus prefigures the future sacrifice of the Son, the last act of his Passion.

The goldfinch is placed on the finger of the Virgin and, despite the main subject up to the two human figures, the animal is clearly visible and recognizable.

Christ entering Jerusalem (First half of the 15th century) by Pietro di Giovanni di AmbrogioPinacoteca Stuard

Entry of Christ into Jerusalem

In the part of the predella referring to Peter of John of Ambrose, Jesus is represented riding a humble donkey in front of the Jerusalem gate. This scene describes his entry into the city, where a cheering crowd greeted him waving palm leaves. The episode, recounted in all four Gospels, prepares and sharpens even more by contrast the subsequent drama of capture, trial and death penalty. The choice of the donkey recalls a passage of the prophet Zacharias concerning the coming of the Messianic king riding a humble and meek quadruped.

The donkey is well represented, faithful to the real representation of the animal. It does not seem to have received heavy deterioration, as can be seen from the color.

Christ and the donkey are the two figures that straddle between the two-dimensionality and the three-dimensionality of perspective, although they are both depicted without depth.

Greyhound (First half of the 16th century) by Francesco Mazzola alias ParmigianinoPinacoteca Stuard


A small greyhound is immortalized in all its elegant and slender figure by Parmigianino, in a symbolic work of the Art Gallery. Favorite animal of the nobility, it was used in hare hunting thanks to its remarkable agility and lean shape. Sitting in profile, wearing a precious collar. Parmigianino made this animal a co-star in the room of the Rocca of Fontanellato, in the province of Parma, perhaps inspired by the greyhounds engraved by the famous Albrecht Dürer.

The main thing of interest is the stroke of drawing, where lines are used to create the shadows. This may be the reference to some of Durer’s engravings.

The collar, while not having color, is striking for the details, from the buckle to the holes up to the chain,

The face follows the same criteria of drawing and details, from the nose to the eyes, which almost look like those of a human person in profile.

Christ and the Canaanite woman (1594/1595) by Annibale CarracciPinacoteca Stuard

Christ and the Canaanite

A half-breed dog is instead inserted by Annibale Carracci in the lower corner of the canvas "Christ and the Canaanite" created for the chapel of Palazzo Farnese in Rome. Thanks to the presence of the animal it is possible to identify the Gospel story, rather rare in painting: to the pagan woman, who asks him to heal the sick daughter, Jesus at first refuses to perform the miracle, considering himself sent only for the salvation of the Jewish people. “Let the children be fed first; for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs”, says Jesus to the woman who replies: “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs ”. Thanks to her tenacity, her request is granted.

The dog is depicted in the lower left part, however, it is not an added value to the work.

St. Rocco (1647) by Italian sculptorPinacoteca Stuard


the dog
represented in the same room of the Art Gallery, next to Saint Rocco,
while it holds a large loaf between its jaws. The small marble
sculpture was commissioned to implore the end of a plague or as a
thank you for a recovery. Saint Rocco was in fact one of the most
venerated saints in the West as a protector from pestilence, since on
the return journey from Rome to Montpellier he contracted the
terrible disease. He retired to a cave and was rescued by a small
dog, who every day brought him food stolen from the master's pantry.

The engraving below the sculpture shows the date of execution and the Latin inscription "Fieri" which means to become or perhaps a reference to "fiera", which means animal.

The dog is at the feet of the saint and has in his mouth the loaf, which was the main food of the saint during the illness. The animal is here the savior and symbol of Saint Rocco.

Ranuccio II (1662) by Frans DenysPinacoteca Stuard

Ranuccio II

a spinone, immortalized next to Duke Ranuccio II Farnese by Frans
Denys in 1662, as well as representing one of his favorite animals -
note the affection of the owner towards the animal and the adorable
gaze of the latter - is a symbol of fidelity. The
preciousness of the collar recalls that of the sovereign’s clothes,
who wears a wide shirt under a rich doublet.

The golden collar of the dog binds to the sumptuous dress of Ranuccio II, almost as if they were one thing.

The special relationship of affection between the man and his dog is seen here between the look of the dog face to his master and the hand gently laid on his head.

In the atelier of the painter (1855) by Enrico BarbieriPinacoteca Stuard

In the painter's studio

On the other hand, the meaning given to the dog in the painting by Enrico Barbieri is different: it is a useful element to make the genre scene centered on the courtship of a model by a painter even more real, thanks to the drowsiness of the mother of the girl. In this case - given the theme - the animal does not symbolize fidelity, but witnesses the fleeting declaration of love, and brings a note of concern, since one of its verses threatens to wake the old woman.

The dog, on the lower left, observes the main moment of the scene and even if placed on the sidelines, its barking could give a different twist to the whole scene.

Dead nature with bucket, cheese, vegetables, fruit, game, veal head and cat (Second half of the 17th century) by Felice BoselliPinacoteca Stuard


widespread as the dog, the cat
was used in the houses to keep away the mice, true plague of the
time. The specimen inserted by Felice Boselli from Piacenza in his
composition of fruits, vegetables and game is intent on staring at a
small rodent, waiting to catch it with an agile leap. Not only a
living element that mitigates the fixity of still life, but also a
signature, given the assonance of the Latin term "Felis",
or cat, with "Felix", or "Felice", the name of
the painter.

The black cat represented in the right part of the composition, rather than looking for a possible mouse seems to look directly at the viewer with his black eyes.

Battle of knights at a fortress (17th century - early 18th century) by Francesco Monti alias Brescianino delle battagliePinacoteca Stuard

at battle at a fortress

To compete with the dog and cat for the title of most common animals of the past in the countryside as in the city, is the horse, an irreplaceable companion even on the battlefield, often represented by the painter Francesco Monti, known as the "Brescianino delle Battaglie". One with his knight, he is caught in the bloodiest moments of the clashes, while he gallops towards the enemy or, again, as he collapses on the ground hit by bullets or cannonballs.

Horses collide in the central part of the composition in the middle of the clouds and brown dust with an impetuous rush to charge.

The anatomy of the horses is particularly interesting in the horse to the left of the composition, where you can see its tense muscles at the exact moment before making a movement.

The horse on the right, on the other hand, wounded and dying, also visible from his expression, with his white color breaks the chromatic monotony, thus avoiding a trope composition centered on one color.

Exodus (1951/1960) by Amedeo BocchiPinacoteca Stuard


In the large canvas "Exodus", Amedeo Bocchi represents almost all the animals related to the agricultural world (dogs, sheep, horses, oxen), which accompany people forced to leave their homes, following the flood of the Polesine , which occurred in November 1951 and caused victims and displaced person in the territories of Rovigo and Venice. Faithful companions of man, animals share his sad destiny, in a silent forced march, of which you can feel all the drama in the gestures and excited expressions and in the dissonant and acid colors of the palette.

In the background of the composition the oxen are represented in a sketchy way. Animals needed in agricultural fields and used here to tow the farmers and all their belongings.

In the lower part instead a dog guides the sheep to more prosperous lands.

The horse, represented here in unnatural colors with acid colors, carries the older members of the family. In this composition, importance is given to its usefulness in helping the weak.

This work shows the sacrifice of everyone, from farmers to animals who, even in delicate and difficult situations like these, always manage to have their own importance in the community.

Credits: Story

Special thanks to Alessandro Malinverni, author of the text.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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