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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 !

Saturday, January 23, 2010

a wary eye

image in public domain
This is Johann Zoffany's (German, worked in England, d. 1810) portrait of Archduchess Maria Amalia of Austria, Duchess of Parma and Piacenza. Zoffany was a Neoclassicist, which normally would make for a more stripped down presentation and color, but I think this is just a poor reproduction. I can't find the date on this, but it might be 1772-79, during Zoffany's extended stay in Italy. He was very fond of a deep red for a Neoclassicist, though. Just look at that chair.
So - do you see the dog? No? Look down in the lower right hand corner. Surprise. That's why I chose this image today; it's unusual for its time in the almost subtextual use of the dog. After all, isn't the dog-in-the-portrait usually one of the first things you see? One of those trappings that points up the essential humanity of the great person being portrayed? Right. Why is that dog sticking its nose out so warily from the side?
My first guess is that the dog so perfectly mirrors the wary, sidelong look of his mistress that it's humorous, and Zoffany was said to have a bit of an attitude and humor to match. Secondly, perhaps Zoffany saw something embattled in this woman that he couldn't help but portray. A daughter of Empress Maria Theresa, from whom she was largely estranged most of her adult life, Maria Amalia was married to the Duke of Parma in a court that seems to have been a bit of a mess. She had a taste for power, and tried to exert it since her husband didn't care to step up. Nothing seems to have been easy. No wonder she - and her faithful pet - are giving you the onceover.

4 comments:

A Few Good Cats said...

I like how the artist placed the dog with its head on her knee. Any number of interpretations come to mind, but I prefer to think that the dog was very affectionate, and especially toward the Archduchess.

Cat with a Garden said...

Great analysis of the painting. We really didn't see the dog at first.

parlance said...

Is the dog's head on her knee, A Few Good Cats? I can't quite make out whether it is actually nearer to the artist. I do agree that the two expressions are humorously similar.

Poor princesses in those days who were expected to leave everything familiar and marry to another culture.

Everycat said...

We didn't see the dog at first either, but now we do, we love his expression, he looks as weary and put upon as the Archduchess.

Whicky Wuudler