Francis Albert Sinatra was the only child of two Italian immigrants. His father was Anthony Sinatra, a New York fireman of Sicilian origin, and his...
August, the month we celebrate the feast of St. Rocco, always pictured with his dog, is a good time to review the history of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (S.P.C.A.) in a city named after another animal lover, St. Francis of Assisi.
Although San Francisco is now recognized as the most humane place in the country for its policies toward animals, it wasn’t always that way.
Back in 1868 underfed work horses pulled heavy loads for hours on end and were often beaten mercilessly. Popular pastimes included bull and bear baiting, dogfights and cockfights. Homeless dogs and cats roamed the streets looking for food. James Sloan Hutchison, a prominent banker, had long been troubled by the everyday animal cruelty he witnessed. Even more disturbing to him was how everyone seemed to accept it as a fact of life.
One day, when he was walking near the intersection of Washington and Sansome Streets he saw yet another scene of senseless cruelty to animals. Two riders on horseback captured a pig that had escaped, roped its front and back feet and were dragging it back over rough cobblestones. Hutchinson couldn’t watch anymore. He stepped in front of the horsemen and forced them to stop, but that wasn’t the end of Hutchinson’s activism. He got a bill passed at the state level that made cruelty to animals a crime.
And, on April 18, 1868, only three weeks after the initial event, he formed the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The SF/SPCA was the first SPCA west of Philadelphia and only the fourth in the country.
In 1884, the San Francisco S.P.C.A. designed and constructed a horse ambulance, the first of its kind in the west. During the first month of its operation, it came to aid six disabled horses. The ambulance preceded ambulances for people in the city of St. Francis.
St. Rocco and his dog, always pictured together on religious picture cards, distributed on his feast day August 16th, was heaven’s first animal rights activist, if the stories we believe, in a leap of faith, are true. St. Rocco, with his faithful companion Roquet by his side is venerated throughout Italy for his intercession and service to the plague-stricken in the early 1320’s A.D., and celebrated in Calabria with Italian gingerbread figures called Panpepati. These represent various parts of the people whose arms, legs or various organs are protected by the saint. He is often considered the patron saint of wool carders and cooks. However, after reading this story, I am sure you’ll agree that San Rocco deserves to be known as the original animal rights activist. St. Rocco (Roch) was born with a birthmark shaped like a cross imprinted on his breast, in Montpellier, France. As soon as he was of age, he gave his earthly possessions to the poor, took up the life of a monk, and began to wander, accompanied by a little dog named Roquet.
He served the plague stricken in Italy while on a pilgrimage of devotion to Rome. This was the time of the Black Death (bubonic plague); and when Rocco discovered that he could heal the stricken with his touch, he devoted himself to their cure. Finally infected with the disease himself, he withdrew, dragging himself to an isolated cave in the woods. While he lay there exhausted, his dog Roquet found his way to the castle of a nearby nobleman where he managed to snatch a loaf of bread from the table. Returning day after day to find food for his master, the dog aroused the interest of the nobleman, who followed him to the cave.
The sight of Rocco, now dying, moved the nobleman to abandon his wealth and follow the path of the dying saint, who died circa 1327 A.D. Saint Rocco ascended to heaven, where he was welcomed by St. Peter, the Celestial Gatekeeper. When St. Peter refused to admit Roquet, St. Rocco insisted that the dog had saved his life. St. Peter replied that a rooster had saved his soul, but that he had never even imagined taking him along to Heaven. Refusing to abandon his faithful companion, St. Rocco sent news of this conflict and reached the ears of God the Father, who commanded that St. Rocco and Roquet be admitted to Heaven together. When St. Peter complained about the neglect of his rooster and threatened to resign his post, the heavenly Father agreed that the bird should also enter. Then the other saints all made a claim for the animals that had served them- St. Jerome for his lion, St. Calm for his cat, St. Agnes for her lamb, and St. Francis for all the other birds and beasts. And the Heavenly Father saw that He had no choice. He ordered St. Peter to throw open the Gates of Heaven to every creature who had served His will. And it was all the doing of St. Rocco and his dog.
“Raining Cats and Dogs” is not a book about the weather; instead its focus is the pets of the royal, rich and famous. The author, Katherine MacDonogh, documented many “Italian Connections”. A few I will share with you... Tiziano aka Titian (1480-1576) considered the greatest of the Venetian painters was born at Pieve di Cadore. His assumption of the Virgin, painted in 1518, first brought him fame. He also painted several works at Ferrara for Alphonso I, including the world-renowned Baccus and Ariadne, 1522. For Philip II of Spain he painted The Sleeping Venus, as well as The Last Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple, 1538, in the Accademia at Venice, and the magnificent portrait known as The Man with the Glove in the Louvre, but his “commercial” success was given a boost with his portrait of the Marquis of Mantua, Federico Gonzaga.
Titian jettisoned the traditional panoply of majesty to convey an image of relaxed authority and aristocratic confidence, enhanced rather than diminished by the presence of the small dog whose obvious pedigree mirrors that of its master. The dog in the painting was Federico’s own favorite pet, one of some hundreds he was said to have owned in the course of his life. Lapdogs had previously been represented as exclusively female companions, large hounds being deemed more appropriate as symbols of virility. Although royal dog painting antedated Titian, it was he who introduced the combination of master and dog and whose influence on the genre remained paramount until the nineteenth century.
The portrait most crucial to his meteoric rise at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was that of the Marquis of Mantua, Federico Gonzaga II, painted with his lapdog c. 1529, which Charles saw when he stayed in Mantua between 1529 and 1530. In 1532 Charles commissioned Titian to copy the portrait of him with his Irish wolfhound by Jacob Seisenegger (1505-67) which was his brother Ferdinand’s possession. When Charles received Titian’s portrait in 1536 he was so impressed that he immediately created the post of Court Painter specifically for him. Apart from being granted the exclusive privilege of painting the Emperor, the artist became Court Palatine, Knight of the Golden Spur and Knight of Caesar.
His children were ennobled and he himself received a thousand gold scudi for every work commissioned. No painter would be granted such honors until Rubens a century later. Andrea Mantegna was another painter sought after by discerning dog lovers through the Italian peninsula. Andrea Mantegna worked at the court of Mantua from 1460 to 1506. His frescoes in the Camera degli Sposi, completed in 1474, portray the large white greyhounds of Ludovico Gonzaga. Two years later Mantegna was given a large amount of land by the Marquis where he wished to make a display of his importance by raising an edifice remarkable for its decorative beauty. Visiting his palace of St. Sebastiano at Mantua in 1515, the Venetian ambassador described the marquis, reclining on a couch by the heart of a richly adorned room, with his best dwarf clad in gold brocade, and three superb greyhounds at this feet.
Three pages stood by, waving large fans, a quantity of falcons and hawks in leash were in the room, and the walls were hung with pictures of favorite dogs and horses. Bernardo Visconti in Milan owned no fewer than five thousand greyhounds fed at the expense of his subjects. Greyhounds were favored by royals. Probably of Egyptian origin, they would have reached Rome from Greece; Cleopatra was said to have given miniature greyhounds to Caesar and Romans introduced the breed throughout the empire.
The greyhounds that feature in so many Renaissance masterpieces were portraits of court pets. Bred with all the professionalism the age could muster, and used principally for hunting, they nevertheless occupied the ducal palaces where they were a great luxury. GRAPHS IF NO SPACE: The greyhounds in Piero Della Francesca’s fresco in the Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini belonged to Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta (1432-68), a gift from Pier Francesco di Lorenzo di Medici. Many of the beautiful drawings by Antonio Pisanello were of the greyhounds of Borso, Duke of Ferrara (ruled 1450-71), reckoned the finest of their breed in Italy. Leonora, the wife of his successor, Ercole I (ruled 1471-1505), owned a special strain which enjoyed such a high reputation that they were sought after by titled dog lovers throughout Italy.