Painterly pups from ancient Egypt (by way of 19th c. Italy!)


Varie specie di cani by Giuseppe Angelelli

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This art is going to the dogs, and that’s a good thing.

How ‘bout a round of a-paws for these regal-looking hounds? Heads up, snouts pert, this vintage assemblage of poised pooch varietals was drawn by 19th century painter Giuseppe Angelelli on an archeological expedition in Egypt. At center in Varie specie di cani, you’ll see the outline of a human walking two beasts in tandem, one sumptuously splotched and the other a rich caramel hue. Note the range of leashes and collars—ancient Egyptians were no dog-owning novices.

When it comes to the domesticated animal accomplices of ancient Egypt, you probably think of cats (a giant limestone creature with the body of a lion might have something to do with that), but canines were equally canonized. You’ll spot man’s best friend popping up in ancient Egyptian imagery as hunters, companions, guardians, even gods. The dog-headed deity Anubis was one of the principal gods of the dead, guiding souls into the afterlife. Killing someone’s dog was a capital crime, and the death of a family dog was met with the same mourning as the death of a human family member. Ancient Egyptians did not take their dogs lightly (something this pup-loving art company can completely get behind), and Angelelli seems to capture that reverence in Varie specie di cani, his rendering of Egyptian art.

A skilled landscape and portrait painter, Angelelli created Varie specie di cani while shadowing archeologists Ippolito Rosellini and Jean-François Champollion through Egypt. The artist spent two years studying various ancient desert sites in person, producing hundreds of drawings of wall paintings, hieroglyphics, tombs and monuments that would later be engraved and included in Rosellini’s three-volume book I monumenti dell’Egitto e della Nubia—the monuments of Egypt and Nubia.

Published in 1834, Rosellini’s book rode a wave of Egyptomania that erupted following Napoleon’s Mediterranean campaign and his ensuing invasion of Egypt. The 1799 rediscovery of the Rosetta Stone by a French lieutenant gave birth to modern Egyptology. By 1822, Champollion had translated the stone’s Egyptian hieroglyphs. A deeper understanding of Egyptian writing enabled a level of study as-yet unimaginable on the subject of ancient Egypt. Subsequent expeditions—like the 1828 Franco-Tuscan expedition lead by Champollion and Rosellini, on which Angelelli tagged along—were able to invoke this new knowledge in exciting and methodical ways. Visual aids like Varie specie di cani mark a period of profound enthusiasm, historical study, international collaboration, and cross-curricular talent. And you thought we just loved dogs.

Varie specie di cani takes a time-traveling road trip—a 21st century archival print of a 19th century archeological artwork immortalizing an Egyptian antiquity. If ancient art is your bag, or you’ve got a thing for Egyptian history, or you just like a really good Italian touch from ‘round about the Risorgimento, this print will surely please. Of course there’s no shame in going for the first thing that caught our eyes: the august illustrated profiles of eleven elegant canines.

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