This 2nd century sculpture of a dog (sans tail) is a Roman copy of a long-lost Hellenistic bronze from the 2nd century BCE. The sculpture seems to have floated around Rome until the 1750s when an Englishman, Henry Constantine Jennings. saw it in a pile of rubble. The perfect souvenir of The Grand Tour! Jennings promptly bought it for £80. Noting the dog’s broken tail, he dubbed the sculpture the Dog of Alcibiades. I can't get my tongue around that word!
The Dog of Alcibiades in the British Museum. Photo courtesy Mike Peel
Why the Dog of Alcibiades? The Greek writer Plutarch’s biography of the Alcibiades (a 5th century BCE general) tells that Alcibiades cut off the tail of his large dog. The reason? Read for yourself:
Possessing a dog of wonderful size and beauty, which had cost him seventy minas, he had its tail cut off, and a beautiful tail it was, too. His comrades chid him for this, and declared that everybody was furious about the dog and abusive of its owner. But Alcibiades burst out laughing and said: "That's just what I want; I want Athens to talk about this, that it may say nothing worse about me.
Hmm…politicians! Alcibiades wanted people to talk about his dog, and Jennings probably felt the same way. He shipped his Dog back to England, where it became famous and was dubbed Jennings Dog. Jennings himself was called Dog-Jennings! Many replicas were made—sometimes in pairs and always with intact tails-- because, as Dr Johnson said, the Dog made “ a most noble appearance in a gentleman's hall". By 1778, Jennings had to sell the Dog to settle gambling debts. Charles Duncombe bought it for 1,000 guineas (£1050) and for the next 150 years the Dog guarded the entrance to the family home, Duncombe Park. In 1925, inheritance taxes forced the conversion of Duncombe Park to a girls’ school. In 2001, it was sold. At that point, the Dog of Alcibiades went up for sale too. Frantic fund raising secured the sculpture for the nation. As a result, you can now see the Dog of Alcibiades, or Jennings Dog, in the British Museum.
The popularity of the Dog resulted in copies popping up in various parks and public places throughout Britain in ensuing decades. You can still see a pair in the grounds of Basildon Park in the UK. And a 19thC pair formed part of the estate of the NY billionairess Leona Helmsly who bequeathed $12 million to her Maltese poodle.
Of course, Staffordshire potters had a go at making earthenware replicas too. This large pearlware model is over 17" tall and probably was made by Wood and Caldwell circa 1800. I admit to not liking this Staffordshire Dog of Alcibiades--too wolf-like for my taste. (Hear my husband’s sigh of relief: one figure Myrna does NOT want!)
I think the smaller, and much nicer, dog John Howard sold a while back is also a Dog of Alcibiades--or a very close relative.
Photo courtesy John Howard.
And thanks to Andrew Dando for pointing out that the little dog in my last blog posting is clearly derived from Jennings Dog. The pose is less aggressive and less ferocious--no raised ruff of fur, no bared fangs,--so I live with him/her very happily.
My friend Bob says that my little dog reminds him of Toby, the Punch and Judy dog. This connection I like, even if it stretches the facts. So while the dog lives in my collection, Toby he shall be.