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The present anonymous painting depicts the famous Grotta del Cane [it. Cave of Dogs]. It is located near Naples, by Lake Agname. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the cave was one of the tourist attractions of the region, visited by aristocrats and intellectuals travelling across Italy as part of so-called Grand Tour: a journey through the Old Continent, which was a traditional stage in the education of European elites.

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The present anonymous painting depicts the famous Grotta del Cane [it. Cave of Dogs]. It is located near Naples, by Lake Agname. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the cave was one of the tourist attractions of the region, visited by aristocrats and intellectuals travelling across Italy as part of so-called Grand Tour: a journey through the Old Continent, which was a traditional stage in the education of European elites. In the depths of the grotto, there were fumaroles: fissures typical of areas with a high volcanic activity, which release toxic effluvia from the Earth’s interior. Fumaroles emit gases such as hydrogen chloride, carbon dioxide and water vapour. The cave owes its name to the shocking spectacle shown to the tourists by the local guides. Numerous descriptions of these shows have been preserved in diaries written by wealthy travellers. It’s best to give voice to one of them – John Ramsay (1768–1845), a 14-year-old student of a school in Westminster: a future writer and intellectual. In his travel diary, dated 16 June1783, he wrote: “Grotta del Cane is a little Grotto cut out in the rock, 12 feet long & 7 high which is very curious on account of the pestiferous vapours which arise out of the earth and which will in a very short time kill any beast whatsoever. Our Cicerone [it. guide] brought a dog with him who having undergone the experiment before, was very loth to enter the Grotto. After some difficulty having got the dog in the Ciceroni held him down with the nose in the vapour till the poor beast was taken with convulsion and kick’d up and at last fell down and was for all appearance dead, tho’ on being put in the fresh air he recovered immediately and frisked along. The ciceroni also took a torch lighted which the vapour put out immediately”.
Sometimes, an animal stunned by the gasses regained consciousness when it was dipped in Lake Agnano, which was to prove the healing properties of its waters. In the 2nd half of the 19th century, the lake was polluted, and in 1870, drained. This was also the time when the Cave of Dogs lost its popularity among tourists, and the barbaric practice of tormenting animals was abandoned.

Bibliography:

  1. John Ingamells, John Ramsay's Italian Diary, 1782–1784, “The Volume of the Walpole Society”, vol. 65, 2003, pp. 89–160.
  2. John Marciari, Grand Tour Diaries and Other Travel Manuscripts in the James Marshalland Marie-Louise Osborn Collection, New Haven 1999.
  3. Alfred Taylor, An Account of the Grotta del Cane; With Remarks Upon Suffocation by Carbonic Acid, “The London Medical and Physical Journal”, vol. 12: 1832, pp. 278–285.
  4. idem, Über die Hundsgrotte im Neapolitanischen, “Notizen aus dem Gebiete der Natur und Heilkunde”, vol. 36: 1833, No. 774, p. 49–52.

Elaborated by Adam Spodaryk (Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums),
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

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“Grotta del Cane”

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