Mastiff Dog

Mr. & Mrs. Meikle, California Chapter


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The sculpture depicts a guard dog, noted by its position and traits: the dog is standing on its forelegs with straight ears and an open jaw. The breed of this ferocious dog is Molosso, a type which was very popular in ancient Epirus (currently southern Albania and northern Greece). Given its efficient hunting skills, these dogs were much esteemed. For, hunting was quite relevant in the Hellenistic Greek world as it was a prerogative of the dynasties and aristocratic class. In this world, the Molossi had to intervene once the greyhounds had worn out the prey; and thanks to their physical prowess, they would manage to stop even the most dangerous animals, such as bears and wild boars. Thus, easing the ultimate capture. _MG_8770The statue was part of the antiquities collection of Francesco Fusconi, chief pontifical doctor during the first half of the 16th century. Fusconi also cured the artist Benvenuto Cellini, among others. The “dearest Doctor”, as Pirro Ligorio -the famous architect – adored to call him, had set up an exquisite collection of antique relicts, especially epigraphs. This collection was kept in his building at Piazza Farnese (Palazzo Fusconi-Pighini, current Palace of the Gallo of Roccagiovine) that was designed by Baldassarre Peruzzi and considered “of high, elegant and precious quality.” The majority of the antiquities resulted from the excavations he conducted in his vineyards on the Esquilino. Precisely, the vineyards of St. Mathew located on Via Merulana Antica and from which the Laocoonte had emerged in 1506. Following the testamentary wills of Francesco Fusconi, the statue, along with other marble sculptures of the collection, were acquired from the monastery of St. Cosimato. Afterwards, these exquisite marble sculptures were transferred to the Vatican Museums in 1770 under the pontificate of Clement XIV.

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The ancient sculpture can be dated back to the 1st century AD. Yet, its prototype can be found in the 3rd century BC, as part of Hellenistic Art. Our statue is located at the right of the portal between the Octagon Courtyard and the Animal Room, almost as if it were recalling its original apotropaic function as guard of the entrances. On the left side, instead, there is a sculpture which is very similar, but better preserved. The Molosso greets the visitors along the path towards the Pius Clementine Museum, located precisely in the heart of the Vatican Museums. Here, one may also notice other masterpieces of classical sculptures, some have been part of the pontificate collections for centuries.

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