Brussels, M. W. collection (see Connaissance des arts, September 1972, p. 62).
Connaissance des Arts, September 1972, p. 62, illustrated (as Delft School, 17th century).
Oil on canvas. 38 3/8 x 45 1/4 in (97,5 x 115 cm)
This hunting dog’s beautiful black-speckled white coat, probably painted life-size, is strikingly offset by the dark background. Nothing distracts us from this beautiful canine profile, standing in solemn answer to the painter’s brush. His sturdy legs rest on a light ground, marked by gently cast shadows. Only the large, sophisticated collar might be able to provide us with information regarding his owners, since a coat of arms appears at the back of the neck, but for now there is unfortunately not enough detail for secure identification. However, its double field (divided per pale, on the left three bends sinister and on the right a rampant animal) could suggest that the painting was a wedding gift, uniting the arms of two families. The presence of balls encircling the collar – recalling those of the Medici coat of arms – does not rule out that the commission may have been related to the illustrious Florentine bankers and patrons of art.
Portraits of animals – and more generally images of natural science – were particularly appealing to the taste and collecting habits of the Medici Grand Dukes, and this phenomenon expanded under Francesco I (1541-1587), specifically in Florence, which offers the context for our portrait. Its free painterly style and impeccable composition, no doubt entirely faithful to its model, have enabled Francesca Baldassari to attribute this Portrait of a Dog to Tiberio Titi, son of the painter and architect Santi di Tito (1536-1603).
During his early career Tiberio continued his father’s activity as portrait-painter in the workshop where he had been trained. In the first two decades of the seventeenth century – that is, until the arrival in Florence of the Flemish painter Justus (known there as Giusto) Sustermans (1597-1681), who was to compete with him for the office of court painter – it was Tiberio Titi who produced most of the portraits of the Medici family. He was also a talented painter of animals, sometimes shown next to their master or mistress, as is the case with the Portrait of Christine of Lorraine as a Widow (Poggio Imperiale, inv. no. 210), completed after 1609, when Grand Duke Ferdinand I died; she wears a portrait miniature of him on her belt. In the catalogue of an exhibition on animal painting in the Medici household, Marilena Mosco suggested Tiberio was the author of a picture of a spotted dog in the Gallerie Fiorentine1, and its presentation of the image against a uniform red velvet background is not unlike the canvas studied here; it also shares the appearance of our swiftly-described speckled coat. In conclusion, we may cite the Portrait of a little white bitch on a velvet cushion attributed to Tiberio Titi by Sandro Bellesi2, a further example of his work as animal painter.
1-Marilena Mosco, in Natura viva in Casa Medici, Animal paintings in the Medici Collections, exh. cat., New York, National Academy of Design, 3 July – 10 September 1986; Coral Gables, Florida, Lowe Museum of Art, 9 October – 23 November 1986, p. 86 (Gallerie Fiorentine, inv. 1890 no. 5851).
2-Sandro Bellesi, Catalogo dei pittori fiorentini del ’600 e ’700. Biografie e Opere, 3 vols., Florence, 2009, I, p. 260 and III, p. 338, fig. 1589.