Madrid’s Dogs

Goya’s Dog (Prado)

Have you noticed that when you travel to a foreign culture you are thrown into an almost strictly visual mode for gathering information? I am in such a mode because I am in Madrid for the first time ever. When I arrived I went for a stroll, then settled into a sidewalk cafe that faced an open public area where ordinary people were strolling. I figured I would see an introduction to Spanish life. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Almost immediately I noticed how many people were walking their dogs. It was a week night, so I imagined that these folks were home from work and the dogs were enjoying a well-deserved time outside with their favorite person. And indeed, the dogs were smiling. You know that upward curve their mouths have when they are really happy.

So many dogs! And they were utterly devoted to their companions. Some waited patiently while their human chatted with friends. One was overjoyed to chase a ball its human would throw, ever further away. Some dogs greeted one another as well-known friends or adversaries. But what struck me was that no matter how foreign a culture may be, the relationship between dogs and their companions is universal. What a comfort when one is feeling alone and, well, foreign!

And today, I went to the Prado, where I discovered an unusual proportion of paintings that somehow had dogs prominently in them. And yes: whether with kings, nudes, crucifixions, or private visions, there was a dog, being its self: sleeping in the sun, begging for food, scratching and sniffing.

But in one memorable painting by Goya, a dog appears as the protagonist. It is alone, with only its head visible, a golden background taking up the rest of the painting’s space. This dog must find its own meaning, and so must we. Critics and historians are mute on this haunting image.

I return to this painting several times, searching for its meaning, unsettled by the dog’s eternal loneliness. Do I see faces in the golden background? Like me, is the dog seeing these shadowy figures above–or is it a cruel trick our minds play to convince us that we are not alone and devoid of significance?


3 thoughts on “Madrid’s Dogs

  1. Hey Vicki~

    Oh lay!

    I am SO jealous….I’ve always want to see Spain!

    Oh…it must look fabulous!

    Thank you so much for posting this while you are away….it’s too cool!

    I can feel myself actually THERE.

    The painting is breath-taking…so stark, yet so FULL of meaning. And YES…I too see faces!

    The large one to the right….feels like God to me.


    Thank you again for sharing this part of your life’s journey with us…it’s WELL appreciated.

    I can’t wait to hear more about it on your return!

    Be well,


    P.S. Say hello to the Spanish squirrels for me!

  2. Hello Vicky and friends,

    I live in Madrid and was looking at this blog for the first time, enjoying the stories about our loved animals.

    I live with a wonderful dog and feel the same things you say here and in the other post about Snoopy, your old neighbour.. (it really made me cry, i have to say)

    That art masterpiece by Goya is amazing.
    Its one of the most intriguin works of El Prado, sometimes art brings about clarity by showing the uncertainty of reality.

    Thank you for your blog!

    Best wishes for the next year from Madrid!!


  3. Hola Marta!

    I’m so very glad you wrote! You made me relive my experiences in your magical city all over again. And you prove that Madrilenos do have a special place in their hearts for dogs, both real and painted ones!

    And thank you for appreciating my little stories. It warms the soul to know these animals have a friend in Madrid!

    Happy holidays from Los Angeles!


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