Friday, September 21, 2018

Dog Days of Summer at The Ringling Museum of Art

The Madonna of the Dragonfly
 (Virgin and Child with Saints Sebastian and Roche) 
by Bernardino Luini (1520-22)
Although the first day of fall is this week-end, the temperature in Sarasota still regularly exceeds 90 degrees -- without taking the humidity into account. So a "Dog Days" Walk and Talk at the Ringling Museum sounded both clever and appropriate. Laura Steefel-Moore led us on our adventure.

I was surprised to learn the dog days tour was developed for The Ringling's partnership with Southeastern Guide Dogs. When a group of dogs graduate from the program, the dogs and their new owners are invited on a tour of the Museum. The docent leads the group through the galleries, stopping in front of a few paintings that include dogs. Detailed descriptions are given to allow the clients to visualize the paintings. Without fail, the dogs patiently wait for their owners while they listen and then guide them to their next stop. What an amazing collaboration!

The first stop on our tour was Bernardino Luini's The Madonna of the Dragonfly, a painting created for a chapel where sufferers of Black Plague would go to pray for relief and protection. Saints Sebastian and Roche flank the Virgin and Child. The Plague was said to feel like being pierced by arrows, so St. Sebastian seemed a natural inclusion. St. Roche has an even closer link to the Plague. The story goes Roche did some hands-on curing of the Plague until he contracted the disease himself. He went to the woods to die, but a dog from a neighboring estate brought him bread and licked his wounds until he healed. Roche has somewhat awkwardly rolled down one pant leg to show one of his scars. His finger draws the viewer's eye both to the scar and to the dog. Today, St. Roche is considered the Patron Saint of Dogs.

Concert with a Self-Portrait of the Artist
by Giovanni Battista Vanni (mid-1620s-30s)
We also discussed Giovanni Battista Vanni's Concert with a Self-Portrait of the Artist. I found this painting odd, not least of which because the artist bears a striking resemblance to Ross from "Friends."

You have to look closely to find the dog in this painting. The female figure in the foreground clutches the dog to her chest. To me it looks as if the woman and dog were transported from elsewhere and plopped into the picture. Despite the lack of interaction, many believe the artist and the woman were married.

Two other versions of this painting exist in which the connection between the couple is made more clear by a ribbon winding between the two figures. In one version the dog is white and thus becomes a more prominent player in the tableau. Whatever is happening among the people, the dog serves as a symbol of fidelity and loyalty.

Capitoline Wolf (20th c. reproduction)
One sculpture made the tour as well, although the figure is technically not a dog but a she-wolf. (As a genetic predecessor to man's best friend, it seems close enough.)

The original of the statue, which can be found in Rome, was originally thought to date back to 5th century B.C. Carbon dating and other tests revealed it only dates back to the 11th or 12th century.

Either way, Romulus and Remus were added to the sculpture in the 15th century. They seem a logical addition given the legend of the twins. When the children's grandfather was overthrown by their great-uncle, he ordered them thrown into the Tiber River to drown. A she-wolf rescued and suckled them until a herdsman found them and took them in. As adults, Romulus and Remus restored their grandfather to power and founded a city on the site where they had been saved. Romulus built a wall around the city (for whatever reason it is that rulers like to build walls). When Remus jumped over the wall, Romulus killed him. With only one twin standing, the new city was named Rome after its leader.

While this background is interesting, my favorite part of this stop was Laura's description of the guide dogs' reaction to the statue. They often see the she-wolf as a source of danger to their owners and growl and back away. Good dogs!

As always, it was both a fun and educational outing. Kudos to the Ringling for its continuing efforts to make its collection accessible to those of us who aren't aficionados of Renaissance and Baroque art.

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