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Washington, United States
loves: you win if you guessed "pets" and "museums". Also books, art history, travel, British punk, Korean kimchi, bindis, martinis, and other things TBD. I will always make it very clear if a post is sponsored in any way. Drop me a line at thepetmuseum AT gmail.com !

Thursday, April 19, 2007

o master

The nineteenth century, as I mentioned yesterday, saw a surge in the philosophy and portrayal of the dog as owner of a soul. Granting them souls also meant investing them with the ability to love, to understand, and to mourn in their way. Few have shown this more sweetly - and more keenly - than Sir Edwin Landseer (English, 1802-1873).

In Attachment (1829) Landseer seized upon the 19th-c dog story par excellence: in 1805 a young artist set off on a tour of the Lake District to go mountain climbing, with no one but his terrier as company. Three months later, a resident of the area heard a dog barking and found the climber, dead from a fall, and the terrier watching over him. To make this even more tragic, the dog had had a puppy sometime in that hopeless watching, which didn't make it.

This story does not make dinner party guests very cheerful, by the way. However, as Rosemblum points out, "In one small canvas Landseer distills the widest spectrum of human drama, from the malevolent potential of untamed nature to the harmonious but heartbreaking emotional bond between man and beast that here reaches the almost operatic climax of star-crossed lovers." (Rosenblum, Best in Show, pp. 63-65.)

Here's another question for you. Do you suppose that the domesticated dog developed these abilities over the last few centuries as a result of breeding or interaction with humans disposed to see these qualities? Or were they always there and simply not recognized due to the beliefs and priorities of their human cultures?

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