The Noble Life of Moretto: an 18th Century Venetian Dog

21972, page 22

The author and his beloved dog: 21972, page 22

On this dog day of summer, we thought we’d relieve the heat with a little canine levity in the Cotsen Children’s Library.

The above image is from Il Moretto del Pittoni: narrazione encomiastica serio-faceta della dignissime perogative che in lui si attrovavano (In Venezia : Presso Leonardo Pittoni, MDCCXIII [1713]). Which is a mouthful of 18th Century Venetian. Very (very) roughly translated, the title is: The Meretto Pittoni: the most serious-facetious laudatory narration that is my worthy perogative to find for him. This half-serious encomium (an extensive celebratory and eulogizing biography of a person or thing) narrates the life and death of Meretto, the venerable dog of the author Giovanni Battista Pittoni, and his publisher/father Leonardo Pittoni.

Most of the text is in Venetian, but the opening poetry of praise on the frontispiece (and the lengthy closing “epigraphe”) are in Latin.

frontispiece and title-page spread

frontispiece and title-page spread

The story opens with Moretto being found and then taken home to the young author. It follows him through his adventures as a young pup and the tricks he performed in his youth. But the life of Moretto takes a turn for the worse, unfortunately, when he finds himself in a confrontation with the treading family cat:

page 26

Page 26

As a result of this episode, the poor dog is blinded. But much to the chagrin of his enemy this means the family treats him even better. Moretto is fed the best doggy meals while the cat looks on enviously:

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Page 28

But nothing can hold back Moretto! Despite his blindness he continues on in his virtuous life.

A well respected member of the dog community:

page34

Page 34

And a courageous defender of his home from the traditional enemy:

Page 30

Page 3

The latter part of the book mostly deals Moretto’s old age and dignified infirmity. As the wise and aged canine reaches his golden years, he can no longer return to his bed without a little assistance:

Page 45

Page 45, notice the picture of Moretto on the wall.

Alas! At the almost impossibly ripe old age of 25, Moretto succumbs to his rheumatism:

Page 53

Page 53

 

For a relatively short book (72 pages), the story of Moretto’s life is bursting with 171 references and comparisons to classical thinkers and figures like Socrates, Boethius, Ovid, Seneca, etc (citations at page 68 and 69); a purposeful exaggeration of the encomium form. Though I think it is clear that the Pittoni’s loved their dog and mourned his loss (they published a book about his life after all), I can’t help but appreciate their sense of humor in creating a facetious and over the top tribute to a family pet.

 

 

Thanks to John Bidwell, Astor Curator and Department Head of Printed Books and Bindings at the Morgan Library, for the heavy lifting on the translating and paraphrasing the text. Any remains errors, however, are very much mine alone.

 

 

Cure for the Summertime Blues I: Making Sculpture with Matches

Dog days are here.  School won’t begin for a while.  It’s so hot and humid that all kinds of mushrooms are popping up in the grass, but that’s no reason for being bored and out of sorts!   There are zillions of great crafty ideas in the collection of activity books in the stacks of the Cotsen Children’s Library, some of which we’ll share between now and Labor Day.

paulinchen

The match is the subject of today’s look at children’s craft projects. One of the chief attractions of matches is that they burn. Anyone silly enough to want to play with matches should read  what happened to Heinrich Hoffmann’s Paulinchen when she did not resist the temptation. Here she is, paying no attention to the two kitties begging her to stop before it is too late.  If she had lived to grow up, who knows, maybe she would have become an artist specializing in installations of matches designed to be set on fire and self-destruct…  Luckily, matches have even more potential as a building material than as a combustible.  A much safer way to have fun with matches, it can be taken to extremes when projects are dreamed up that require considerable outlays of time and money, plus studio space.

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Retired carpenter Brian Wherry in Exeter, England with some of his colossal creations made of matchsticks.

In twentieth-century children’s activity books there are many, many very doable projects creating little sculptures from matches and combinations of found objects. Three of my favorites are beautifully illustrated books from Denmark and the Soviet Union published during the early 1930s.  This Soviet pamphlet by Eleonora Kondiain offers wordless pictures for making things out of acorns and matchsticks.  About all that is needed is a table top and a jackknife.

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Getting started. Eleanora Kondiain, Zheludi I spichki [Acorns and Matches] Leningrad: GIZ, 1930, p. 3 (cotsen 18308)

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Acorn and matchstick piggies from Eleanora Kondiain, Zheludi I spichki, p. 5. Cotsen also has Kondiain’s little book with instructions for making a doll from straw and for whittling a stag from a twig.

Potatoes work well too for this purpose, although it raises the question whether it is right to use perfectly good food this way.  Kuznetsov’s  illustrations make it look as if anything done to the potato can be reversed before peeling, cutting up, and popping into a pot of boiling water.  Presumably no one cares if an hour before the vegetables had been part of a cat or equestrian figure.

21419page7

A sculpture of potatoes, matches, string, etc. I. P. Meksin, Kartoshka [Potato] illustrated by K. V. Kuznetsov. Leningrad: GIZ, 1930, p. 7 (Cotsen 21419). Opinion in the office was divided as to whether the animal being ridden is a bull, a reindeer or a donkey. Or none of the above…

21419page4

This is clearly a cat. Meksin, Kartoshka (1930), p. 4.

The really ambitious crafter can build backdrops so the figures can be arranged in  tableaux.   For inspiration, look at the scenes  E. Fetnam created and Kay W. Jensen captured on film in Nodder and Propper [Nuts and Corks].  The cover design  makes delightful use of matches and mixed nuts…

nodder kangaroo

A kangaroo family conversing in E. Fetnam’s Nodder og Propper. Copenhagen: Wilhelm Hansen, c.1933, p. 29 (Cotsen 95045).

nodder cover

Now can you make this friendly ladybug without instructions?

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To be continued…