The Galgo in Art history
The meaning of being born a galgo
Sighthounds have not been equally valued throughout history. Here, some examples.
Surely uncertainty, doubt about almost everything that happens, is what means to be born a galgo. The Spanish greyhounds´ survival depends on many things, who his parents are, have they won anything? The first weeks are critical to shape every galgo´s fate. I have heard many things for which a galgo is no longer wanted and discarded: reasons as simple as barking to much, a very short tail, maybe it stopped during a race because of sore hands or because the breeder has new puppies he wants to try. I guess the most important question a galguero asks himself for the future of these dogs is:Why should I stay with you?
Why should I keep you?
When I made this picture of Tzatziki, our little galga, the first thing I thought of was that it looked like a question mark. Yes, I might be spendingtoo much time with dogs, but for me, after having found her in the trash, thrown by a galguero, the photo meant luck, fortune and the resolution of the uncertainty for this young greyhound. Now she´s part of the clan, she´s family.
Looking back at how the galgo played his role in art history Barbara Vidal, after having explored the portrayal of the galgo in Don Quixote of La Mancha, paints to us a very different picture of that we have of sighthounds today. Her words and insight are just but little pearls in a sea of knowledge. Enjoy them.
The Galgo in Art, more than 5.000 years as a symbol of elegance
In stone, bronze, on currencies, oil on canvas and wood, digital printing ... According to Gary Tinterow, curator of contemporary art at the Met / Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY:
"The Galgo is the only dog race invariably present in art history for more than 5,000 years. "
About the galgos we know that is one of the oldest dog breeds known to man and the first to be domesticated by us. Its popularity among humans did not come just for its being a hunting infallible weapon (with that ultra-flexible spine and those lungs and heart bigger than normal, letting them run at 70 km / h) but also for its peculiar physiognomy, their sleek and harmonious body soon was associated with elegance... and became one of the favorite motifs for painters and artists of all ages.
There are galgos (or its first ascendant) on the fantastic caves of Tassili n'Ajjer, currently the Algerian Sahara, a World Heritage Site since 1982. In these caves there are more than 15,000 examples of paintings and rock carvings from the upper Paleolithic and Neolithic age, they give us a true reflection and perspective on the fauna evolution and human customs in this region for more than 8,000 years.
In these paintings added to the most common motif represented on the walls, a type of antelope already extinct, appear elephants, hippos and giraffes dating back almost 10,000 years. In a second stage of paintings, some 5,000 years ago, scenes of pastoral life and bovine species are abundantly represented and here, we find our galgo. In the scene several galgos surround a man charging with bow and arrows, chasing what appears to be goats.
For Ancient Egypt (a civilization which some believe has emerged in the early 3100 BC) dogs and in particular the galgo and other greyhounds were much more than wild game and hunting beasts. For them, the galgo represents the god Seth and his son, the dark dog-shaped God Anubis (a key player in the religion of the people) was also greyhound-like. Anubis is represented as a large black canid (probably a jackal) laying on his stomach. He was in charge to ensure a good transition to the after-world of the dead.
Egyptian tombs of the great pharaohs are full of galgo engravings, loyal companions of their masters who remained being so even after death. Dogs are mostly depicted at their owner feet or in hunting and war scenes under his car or his throne, tied up or on a leash. They were members of the family and a sign of pride among the nobles of the time, competing with each other for the possession of the most beautiful galgos.
In Greek mythology, the goddess Artemis, Mistress of Animals, one of the oldest and most revered deities, is often depicted as a huntress carrying a bow and arrows, and accompanied by a greyhound. This was an image that, later on was, adopted in the Roman Empire for whom Diana, the virgin goddess of the hunt, always appears with several greyhounds, deer and a bow in hand. Greco-Roman mythology is rich in hunting scenes and episodes, a necessary activity for the life of man in which his intelligence and physical qualities were tested but also its power and prestige. There the galgo fulfilled its role as symbol of class. There is even a Roman coin, denarii, in which a greyhound running on a ray appears. Greyhounds are also a figures widely represented in Roman mosaics.
The galgo, from mythology to the palaces
In the Middle Ages, the Books of Hours were an important historical record of the life and customs of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and a great source of Christian medieval iconography. Indeed, one of the most popular images is "Trs Riches Heures du Duc de Berry", published in 1416 by the Limbourg brothers for the Duke Jean de France (brother of Carlos V). In the scene, the announcement to the shepherds, it appears a lighting to which two fearful shepherds react to the sight of three angels announcing the birth of Jesus to them. At his feet, in countryside settings, the flock and galgo are resting. The book belongs to the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Hunting was also a frequent topic for the Italian Quattrocento and the Florentine Paolo Uccello (Florence 1397-1475) left a good example in his painting of hunting scenes in the forest, now in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Uccello, named like that for his fondness for drawing birds, specialized in the study of perspective and used it to narrate, on a single canvas, different stories or events that occurred over time. In his scenes with gloomy backgrounds and dark skies, highlighted the luminous figures, knights, soldiers, ladies, horse and galgos have their actions frozen and suspended in often unnatural positions, like in a kinetic study.
By an unknown author is the series of the Unicorn Tapestries. Of Dutch origin and dated between 1495 and 1505 is preserved at the MET Museum of NY. Among the fabrics there is one entitled The Hunt of the Unicorn, a scene in which a group of noble hunters are chasing a unicorn with their dogs, hounds and from the greyhound kind.
The Galgo, a fierce hunter, epitome of elegance
In 1620, Paul de Vos, based in Antwerp and reaching the degree of a master painter, was the most widely commissioned artists and specialist for hunting scenes with which senior representatives of the aristocracy of the time would like to adorn their best rooms. These scenes were illustrated with great violence, the struggle of animals and figures were a bloody, ferocious, sight. Dogs appear especially elongated to force the perspective and expression.
His is "A greyhound lurking" (1636-1638), now in the Museo del Prado. This is one of several hunting dogs painted by Paul de Vos. The hound appears in an open landscape without vegetation or rocks in foreground. There are few trees in the background at different levels and a great development of the sky, but the galgo is the protagonist. There is no systematization in the representation of the dogs back then, they looking for different expressions and postures without, in many times, matching the reality of a galgo running. In this case the dog is turned back toward the viewer, calmer than those in "Deer beset by a pack of dogs” (1637-1640) also BY the master of Antwerp.
Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), one of the most important Baroque painters of the Flemish school and characteristic for his lush, dynamism and sensual style, produced a series of hunting scenes that are monumental in 1620, with the help of students his workshop. Among them we find the one with the title “Wolf and Fox Hunt”. Scholars disagree as to the true participation in the work of Rubens, some have attributed to him the authorship of the animals in the foreground, the three and the heads of hunters in the center, and others deny any stroke put onto the canvas by the master Mr. Rubens.
Veronese painted “Boy with Greyhound” in 1570, probably commissioned by a nobleman who wanted to represent the passage of his son from child to man. His offspring showing adulthood by the company of a sword and his favorite dog, a galgo, a young but powerful hunter able to make decisions.
Flamenco painter Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641) is the author of the portrait of James Stuart, Duke of Richmond and Lennox. On the canvas, it appears a majestic Duque, a newly inaugurated member of the Order of the Garter carrying the Silver Star, green ribbon and the league, emblems of this brotherhood and power. The galgo represents here a symbol of nobility (alluding to his privileges as hunter) and the virtue of fidelity. It is said that the dog saved the life of his master during a boar hunt and so he wanted to be portrayed with the animal.
If there is a collection of dazzling beauty, representing elegance and power of the aristocracy, it is the Royal Collection of the British Crown, owned by Elizabeth II. Among the works of art that are in this collection we find Sir Edwin Landseer's work entitled "Eos, Favorite Greyhound of Prince Albert". It seems that it was actually a female galgo, which belonged to Prince Albert of England. It is said that Queen Victoria was so devoted to her that commissioned this painting to Landeer, who was said to be particularly sensitive to represent animals. The painting was her Christmas gift to Prince Albert for.
The Italian Giovanni Boldini (1842-1931) also received orders for ladies of high society, as the princesses of the time, to portray their animals. About him, the critic Bernard Berenson said that he was:
He was an ultra-chic artist and in his particular way, especially when portraying lanky ladies, international high society, painted as under a translucent glass. He played very well at the highest circles of female elegance at that time, when women were too coated by the architects of the tailors, their dressmakers. They seemed to be reflected in an ambiguous pose, between the halls of palaces and the theater. So it happens with the painting “
Luisa Casati, the marquise herself, was the one who said to the artist:
"I want to be a living work of art"
And that she was. The Marquise posing with her black galgo, sure of her position and her beauty was pure art. Boldini´s painting belongs to a private collection of contemporary art.
In a time where images appear to have shed all symbolism and are compulsively consumed, a product for visual stimuli virtually empty, meaningless signifiers, there is an artist of Scottish birth, Whyn Lewis, who has chosen to recover the Galgo (and other animals) as the highest expression of elegance.
There is a race for which he feels a special interest, the whippet; a small galgo. She continually portrays its clean lines, in simple, neat paintings, stripped of artifice and with no landscape, almost without shadows. "From the beginning my paintings dealt with expressing emotions through the shapes and positions. I suppose the body language of my whippet, which is the same silent language of most of us who understand, intuitively, when we communicate with our pets," describes the artist herself.
"I have always felt that animals speak quietly to owrselves and so do paintings. I think this is the connection between nature and art. It takes time to open your eyes, look, feel and understand without words empathy and understanding with the world around us. "
Author: Barbara Vidal - Translator / Editor: Yeray López