"It is timely indeed that Karla should write a book re-evaluating the role of dogs in Spanish art and culture. This current Covid lockdown has led to many of us deciding that we need dogs in our lives for companionship and for exercise. Yet again, the role of the dog in our society is being looked at afresh.
Karla’s book traces how the symbiotic relationship between human and dog goes back at least to Neolithic times. There is much evidence such as the careful and dignified burial of owner and dog together in many ancient cultures to suggest that dogs were, as Karla observes, seen as part wild, part human and part divine.
Some ancients saw dogs as having healing powers leading to dogs being laid on to the bodies of sick people or to lick wounds.
Small dogs were bred to be companions to children whereas 90 kg mastiffs in armour performed a valuable role in battle. The Romans at least were not averse to dog sacrifice to ensure a good harvest.
In many ways Karla demonstrates that dogs have always been more than just working animals.
As artists discovered painting on canvas dogs were co-opted into a story telling role. In a world without television or radio (let alone the internet) paintings were there to both entertain and inform.
In Velásquez’s painting of Jacob being told of the death at the hands of wolves of Joseph, his favourite son, it is a small dog barking at the bottom of the painting that reminds us that Joseph’s brothers are lying about the fate of Joseph. In one of Velásquez’s court paintings, we see him portraying very sweetly Felipe IV’s young son, Prince Felipe Prospero. In the painting Velásquez has placed a small spaniel next to the child on a throne-like chair. The Prince was very sickly and died at the age of four. Was Velásquez signalling that the dog had more chance of acceding to the throne than his little master?
Karla’s book is full of such insights.
We learn how small dogs were used to complete the nuclear family in a Catholic propaganda campaign where artists were charged with tackling licentious behaviour in the late 1600s.
Dogs often appear as symbols of fidelity in paintings celebrating a wedding. We also see how the treatment by artists of hunting dogs could send a message of either the success of Kings in war or, with the more enlightened views of Goya, remind us we were to some extent slaves to circumstances.
After reading Karla’s book you will look again at the dog in any painting and ponder on what he is there to tell us about his owner and ultimately about ourselves."
* Chris Tucker, Javea