The more I looked, the more I saw. Countless times I saw it in Christian religious art, where the four Gospel writers—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—are typically depicted, respectively, as a divine man, a winged lion, a winged ox, and an eagle. Clustered on the roof of the Croatian National State Archives building in Zagreb I noticed a parliament of Croatian owls, symbols of wisdom. And in Florence I met Il Porcellino (“the Piglet”), Baroque master Pietro Tacca’s popular boar fountain, sculpted in 1634 and situated now in the city’s Mercato Nuovo. Visitors traditionally put a coin into the boar’s jaws for good luck and then rub its snout to ensure a return to Florence. As a result, the snout always has a polished sheen, while the rest of its body remains a patinated brownish-green. (Of course, I rubbed its snout like there was no tomorrow!) Continue reading “Wonderful Life: A Celebration of Animals in European Art (Part 2)”
‘I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d,
I stand and look at them long and long.’
— Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself, 32” (from Leaves of Grass)
As we enter this season of “Peace on Earth, good will toward men,” it is worthwhile to be reminded that in this deeply conflicted world, while there may be many things that divide people—borders, currency, language, religion, politics—there are many more things that unite us in harmony. One of those unifying principles is our common relationship with animals: not merely as food or pets or helpmates, but in the simple awe and affection they have always inspired in the human psyche. It is a sentiment that stretches not only across great geographical distances but across the vast chasm of time itself.
Farmers today who regularly tattoo their hogs, goats, cattle, horses, and other livestock may not realize it, but they are participants in a practice dating back to the very dawn of human civilization.
Thousands of years ago, almost as soon as our hunter–gatherer ancestors stopped hunting–gathering and instead took to farming and animal husbandry in fixed settlements to supply themselves with reliable sources of food and clothing, they realized they had a new challenge to face: how to keep track of their ever-growing herds of swine, goats, cows, sheep, and other animals in their care.
When people think of animals of the canine variety, most of us instinctively picture them in their common role of serving “merely” as household pets: that is, boon companions to us and our kids, if not full-fledged members of the family.
Yet thousands of years before domesticated dogs took on this role within the home, evolutionary biology had already forged a unique bond between animal and human in which the quadruped also served as helpmate and acolyte to its bipedal comrade. Such dogs (depending on their breed) boasted qualities of speed, strength, endurance, resistance to cold, proficiency in swimming, high intelligence, receptivity to commands, sharp eyesight, acute hearing, and/or superior sense of smell that allowed them to perform tasks on our behalf—but to the dog’s mutual benefit—for which people were not naturally well suited. For that reason, certain dog breeds continue to this day to work alongside us in a variety of key areas, not as pets but as collaborators.
Summertime, and the livin’ is easy
Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high
— George Gershwin / DuBose Heyward
The myriad pleasures of summer are perfectly encapsulated in the song “Summertime” made famous by Ella Fitzgerald and others. It is traditionally a time to frolic outdoors and be carefree. But for summer-loving humans, it comes with its own set of risks and dangers as well, from sunburn and poison ivy to pesky mosquitoes and under-barbecued burgers.
The same applies to our beloved pets. While dogs and cats love to explore outside when the weather turns warm, it is important to remember there are hidden perils in even the most serene and halcyonic settings that can put their health and very lives at risk.