Goya’s Dog

Image of cupula frescoes by Francisco de Goya depicting St Antony

Contributor: Clare Brant

Goya’s Dog

In the Ermita San Antonio de la Florida, a chapel in Madrid with frescoes by Goya, there is a circular scene around the cupola. It shows St Antony raising a man back to life in order to answer the question: who murdered him? The saint’s father has been accused; the corpse says he was not the murderer – but does not say who was. A crowd watches: in contemporary dress, all sorts of characters look on, in all sorts of attitudes. Among the figures is a hunchback with a beautiful dog, a brown hound, who leans forward towards the saint with more attention than many of the people.

 

I’ve seen that dog, loping beside its brute master

a she, I think, born affectionate and curious

quizzical about the human world

given to sniffing the hems of robes

friar, woman, beggar

 

her keeper, who will never have a woman

unless he kidnaps one

loves this dog so much

he will go hungry to let her feed

first pick of scraps

last bite of crust

 

she’s silky-eared, a maja, chocolate velvet

a beauty he can only glimpse lopsidely

all handsome, as he with hunch and broken grin will never  be

all ears, to hear this saint

 

the keeper thinks the saint is smart

he’s on to something, surely

charging to raise the dead

you’d never run out of customers

 

the dog has heard something different

under a smell of piety, a hunger for the truth

urgency of question

moral emergency

 

playful, obedient, meek and sad

her big brown eyes are soulful

can a dog go to heaven by being good

she wonders, stretching the question

in long arched neck, flat ears

 

and listening to the saint

she wonders why

in this beautiful world

truth is in short supply.

 

Note: close-up photographs reveal the dark shape is human shoulder, back and body. That it looks exactly like a hound from below is an optical illusion: deliberate, by a dog-loving artist?

 

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