Dogs have featured in art and design for centuries – starting with prehistoric cave drawings, Egyptian relief, and famously a representation in the form of a mosaic in Pompeii. Dogs have also featured in illuminated manuscripts, medieval and Renaissance prints, textiles, in painting, or as sculptures differing in size and ranging in materials from wood to marble, ceramics, and terracotta. The variety of materials used to represent dogs is almost as vast as the different species of dogs themselves. Fascinatingly, the at least 150 dog species we know of today all have one ancestor – the wolf.
Belonging to the species of Canis, examinations of brain size, anatomy of the skeleton, and the teeth appear to confirm that dogs have a greater resemblance to wolves than to any other animals belonging to this species (coyotes or jackals for example). Furthermore, as Dr. Juliet Clutton-Brok – member of staff in the Mammal section of the British Museum – argues, “wolf, like man, lives in a family group based on dominance hierarchies, so that imprinting on man as the group leader can be extended into adult life.” This argument suggests that the similarities in social structure between man and wolf played a part in its domestication and subsequent evolution into the domestic dog.
However, this evolution took time, and involved taming, and breeding in and out of qualities that were desired by man according to the role the animal was to fulfil in the community. These qualities could be connected to the dog’s appearance and it is truly fascinating to observe how the appearance of dogs changed over time. In addition, it is fascinating to think about how humans took on the role of ‘designing dogs’. One striking example is the breeding history of pugs.
It is generally agreed that the pug first appeared in China, then Japan, before coming to Europe in the sixteenth century. Once in Europe it became the official dog of the House of Orange in 1572 after saving the life of William II, the Prince of Orange at the battle of Hermigny by barking upon the approach of the Spanish armies. Since its introduction to Europe this breed was popular with rulers through the ages, its popularity declining only in the nineteenth century, and regaining strength after the Pug Dog Show in London in 1885. However, the pug of the past does not look exactly like the dog we know today. Characterised by its stubby, almost inverted snout, short legs, and a sturdy, compact build, objects from the past reveal that this was not always the dog’s appearance.
English painter William Hogarth (1697 – 1764) owned a pug named Trump. This animal has been immortalized by Hogarth himself in a self-portrait from 1745, and in the form of a porcelain figurine made in the Chelsea Porcelain factory around the same time of the painting. Noticeably, the pug has longer legs, a relatively elongated snout, and looks generally leaner than pugs of our day. The longer snout can also be seen in a painting entitled ‘Willpower’ by the animal painter Charles van den Eycken from 1891. Therefore, the shrinking of the muzzle must have occurred in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This is thought to have happened due to inbreeding and must have been part of a personal preference of breeders.
All of this information is to raise questions about humans as designers of living beings, of nature, and whether design historians can talk about the design of dogs the same way that we can about the design of objects. In the end, different breeds of dogs have developed according to human necessity and human preference. We have tailored the appearance, character, and size of dogs to reflect our own tastes and desires. Guidelines for the look and personality of a dog breed are established today, which in a way relates to manufacturing guidelines for specific types of objects that regulate how things look – that they look the same – and limit error or danger.
 Juliet Clutton-Brock, ‘Man-made dogs’, Science, 197, no. 4311 (1977), 1340 – 1342, p. 1340
 Clutton-Brok, ‘Man-made dogs’, 1977, p. 1341.
 William Secord, Dog Painting – The European breads, (Woodbridge: Antique Collectors’ Club, 2000), p. 138.
 Secord, Dog Painting, 2000, p. 141.
Have you seen any objects that intrigued you lately? Perhaps you have encountered something that piqued your curiosity in a museum or gallery (or in a shop or in the street?), or as part of your art or design practice, as part of your research, or as part of your daily life. Please don’t be shy! We welcome submissions on objects of all sorts, between 500 and 1,500 words, and we do ask that you own the rights to your images or use those belonging to the V&A. If you aren’t sure if your idea is right for our column, it certainly never hurts to ask, so please get in touch with us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Luisa Coscarelli –
Luisa did her BA in History of Art and German Literature at the Humboldt University in Berlin. Although completing it with a focus on contemporary art, she has now joined the Renaissance strand and is interested in the relationship between smell and design. For her dissertation, Luisa is asking questions about ‘smelly objects’, and how olfactory environments were designed in the Renaissance period.
© Luisa Coscarelli 2014. All Rights Reserved.