Moggie & doggie

I don’t know why but there seem to be not many feline residents in our neighbourhood. Since Hubbie and I moved into our present loft more than a decade ago, we haven’t seen a single cat, domesticated or feral, crossing a street or parking a furry bum at a front porch and grooming itself. Come to think of it seriously, my last sighting of moggie was when I happened to walk past a cat cafe on Rivington Street. I saw a tabby looking out through the window while perching on the cat tower. Is that all?! How bizarre! Where are you, cats?

Anyway, my girl Bella hadn’t met any cat until she bumped into one at a village post office in Postbridge…

There was a black & white cat on the shop floor, minding its own business while a post mistress dealing with the customers.

So how did she react to her very first encounter with a feline kind?

Ultra-super keen to befriend it. She was so overenthusiastic and the cat was definitely not on the same wavelength. It gave her a quick glance and disappeared behind the louvre. ‘Why? I only wanna say hallo to you!’ Bella was crestfallen.

The post office also served as a general store and some snacks and hot drinks were available from the counter. ‘A Cornish pasty please!’ A woman queuing before me asked the mistress. ‘Heated up?’ ‘Yes, please!’ She disappeared behind the door and the familiar hum of a microwave oven filled the quiet shop floor. Soon after a chime of the oven rang, the mistress emerged with a bag and handed it to the woman. Then she turned to me and asked ‘How can I help you?’ I ordered a cup of hot chocolate and she disappeared into the back room again. This time, I heard the hiss of an electric kettle and the sound of rattling spoon as the mistress was giving a good stir to the cocoa powder. While I waited for my drink, I studied the interior of the post office / store. The shelves were sparsely filled with household essentials, such as toilet rolls, cleaning products, washing powders, sliced breads, bottled condiments, newspapers, weekly magazines, soft drinks, etc. Since the high season of Dartmoor was long gone and over, the shop seemed to be slowly getting ready for hibernation.

The mistress came out with a paper cup, ‘£1.40, please!’ I handed her the money and walked out of the store with Bella in tow.

There were two wooden benches in front of the post office and I settled myself in one of them. The hot chocolate was unexpectedly rich and moreish and the warm November sunshine made the fallen leaves, which Bella was busy flipping over, looked like golden nuggets. Ahhh, what a blissful moment! Then, I noticed that we were watched…

That black & white cat came out of the door and sat itself down. I think she was curious about Bella. ‘Look Bella. The cat is back!’

Two of them stared at each other for quite a long time. Then, the cat lost interest in her and walked away behind the telephone box.

I wondered what Bella made out of her first encounter with a feline kind. She probably thought it was an unfriendly dog?

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Life imitating art?

A cat is loose in the National Gallery!

Over the period, I have developed a particular way to enjoy the gallery. Each time I visit there, I have a predetermined theme which I am to look for in the paintings. The theme can be clothing, jewellery, furniture, food, animal, building, weather, etc. 
Of course, I do observe the paintings in a more conventional way too and appreciate their subjects, compositions, colours and styles like everyone else. I especially adore Rembrandt and Gainsborough for their masterful brush strokes and the serene demeanours of their subjects. 

Unlike contemporary abstract paintings, old masters artworks are a great source of information on social and cultural history of the time when the paintings were produced. Dutch still life is a prime example of how daily life was conducted in the 17th century Netherlands. It is fascinating to see how the people loved one another, mourned the losses and nourished bodies and minds as well as all the artefacts which assisted and enriched their everyday life. Some of the artefacts are no longer so prevalent in our present daily life. However, furry friends, dogs and cats who graced the canvases of old masters, are still a permanent fixture of our daily life. And last Wednesday, I wanted to see how they were depicted centuries ago.

Diana and Actaeon by Titian…

A small spaniel type dog is yapping at the intruder, Actaeon. The way the dog is having a go at him with its ferocious yapping reminded me how Mr.B would respond to a door bell.

A Warrior adoring the infant Christ and the Virgin by Vincenzo Catena…

A grey dog by the side wall may be small but the meaning of it being there is no small matter. Dogs in old masters artworks could carry a number of implicit messages. They may represent a symbol of fidelity or purport the contradictions such as sexuality and promiscuity. I guess this small puppy/dog stands for fidelity as a future protector of the infant Christ?

Happy Union by Paolo Veronese…

A female in the middle who are about to receive a crown is Venus, the goddess of love. And the dog on her left with a gold chain represents marital fidelity.

The Virgin and Child with Saints and Donor by Gerade David…

A whippet type dog lying down nearby the infant Christ may represent a dog from Book of Tobit. The dog in the story was a companion and a protector of the young Tobias who went on to an adventure with the dog.

During the second half of the Renaissance, dogs had become an independent motif of art. This elevation of their status was initiated by the trend of the European royalties and magnates, starting to own dogs for their pleasure, such as hunting and companionship.

The Family of Darius before Alexander…

On the large artwork, the dogs grace both end of the canvas. On the right, there is a hound type dog which appears to be accompanying the Alexander. And on the left, two spaniel like dogs are clutched by a short man who looks like a court fool.

The Vendramin Family by Titian…

Dogs have always been boys’ best friends no matter when the ages are, haven’t they?

A Lady teaching a Child to read by Caspar Netzcher…

And of course, they have been so to girls too.

Mr and Mrs Andrews by Thomas Gainsborough…

Even if they are grown ups, dogs are still their faithful companions.

John Plampin by Thomas Gainsborough…

Or Mr.Plampin might perhaps love his dog more than his wife?

A Homage to Velázqueze by Luca Giordano…

I found this depiction of the spaniel rather unusual. Instead of appearing to be restrained by being on a leash or held in arm, the dog was jumping off the step and dashing forward.

However, some of the canines are not treated with all due respect. The unfortunate ones appear to be employed as a mere infill to occupy spaces which otherwise would look awkward if they were left vacant.

Pharaoh with his Butler and Baker by Pontormo…

You know what I mean, don’t you?

Joseph sold to Potiphar by Pontorno…

The composition sits better because the dog acts as an anchor.

The Milbanke and Melbourne Families by George Stubbs…

I am sure this pointer like dog is a companion of the rider. But also, he helps the composition to be perfect too.

The part which the artists imposed upon dogs may have been for the latter’s convenience, but it didn’t stop the painters to observe and portray the dogs with affection.

A Young Man and Woman making Music by Jan Miense Molenaer…

Two Men with a Sleeping Woman by Gabriel Metsu…

A Musical Party by Jacob van Velsen…

Four Officers of the Amsterdam Coopers’ and Wine-rackers’ Guild by Garbrand van den Eeckhout…

An Officer dictating a Letter by Gerard ter Borch…

I like the way the painter captured the glint in the dog’s eyes. It makes me imagine how the dog would jump to his feet and ask me to play if I whistled at him!

Comparing with the ever so obedient and docile dogs in old masters, the cats seem to be always cats and nothing but cats, mischievous, sneaky and…natural.

A Woman and a Fish-pedlar in a Kitchen by swollen van Mieris…

A Sleeping Maid and Her Mistress by Nicolaes Maes…

The Effect of Intemperance by Jan Steen…

The cats are not always just an opportunist but also a giver & receiver of affection. 

A Boy and a Girl with a Cat and an Eel by Judith Leyster…

A kitten in his arm doesn’t look so overjoyed about its predicament though.

But a cat is a cat as a leopard can’t change its spots. It’s always up for a mischief.

The Graham Children by William Hogarth…

The cat definitely makes this already charming family portrait even more enchanting.

You will be happy to know that not all the canines behaves like their typecast.

A Merry Company at Table by Hendrik Pot…

Marriage A-La-Mode by William Horgath…

Their naughtiness is more endearing than their counterparts who behave like a saint. For the same reason, I did not like Lassie very much because she always behaved impeccably.

A final canine of the gilded frame is,

Portrait of Don Justino de Neve by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo…

There was no explanation about why the dog was wearing a bow. However, the love for the canine companion from its owner and the painter were more than evident. 

I hope you enjoyed the paintings as much as I did…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

 

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