From the looks of a manuscript from the 1480s, it appears that the Medici household in Florence could have used the services of the Dog Whisperer. TV dog obedience trainer Cesar Millan just might have an idea on how to better socialize this dog pack had he lived in the late quattrocento.
In this illustration, a man standing in an upstairs room holds one of the dogs in his arms. Meanwhile, in the dining area below, a servant is setting a table for a feast while another dog appears to have become airborne. Four more dogs frolic about the scene.
This beautiful rendering of a domestic dog pack is one of 135 illustrations from what is known as the Medici Aesop Manuscript.
The volume is in the Spenser Collection from the New York Public Library. It’s an illustrated edition of Aesop’s Fables with the text in Greek. The art is usually attributed to Mariano del Buono, a prolific illustrator of lavish sacred texts. Although, in this case the text appears to be something a boy would be reading while studying Greek. Learning classical Greek would at that time be in vogue among the Renaissance elite with their obsession with classical times. (There’s more on the manuscript here.)
Appearing in the background behind the head and shoulders of the dog to left is the Medici coat of arms. This makes it easy to imagine the scene as part of one of the Medici villas or palaces. The head of that household, and head of Florence and its Tuscan territories would be Lorenzo the Magnificent, that father and consummate patron of Renaissance art.
The boy who might have been one tutored in Greek with the book would be his son, Piero di Medici, later known as the exiled Piero the Unfortunate. The family’s records do show a volume of a Greek Aesop in still in private library in 1495.
The fable here is “The Dog that Came to Dinner.” In that story, a dog belonging to a rich man invites another dog to a feast the man is planning. The guest dog then brags to other street dogs, but later gets tossed out of the home by the cook. Perhaps the airborne dog is he one that got himself toss out.
The image is rich in material to deconstruct toward one interpretation or another about Renaissance folks related to their dogs. We might start with seems to be the personal connection the rich man seems to have with the little dog he holds in his arms.