Why on Earth did 17th Century Dutch painter Emanuel de Witte repeatedly depict dogs pissing on columns inside of churches?
Wandering blissfully through the Dutch and Flemish galleries in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC I came across Emanuel de Witte's The Interior of the Oude Kerk, Amsterdam
which the NGA describes thusly on its website: "It is one of his most imposing works, due to its unusually large scale and the dramatic view down the nave of a church. It is boldly executed, with dramatic light effects streaming across the composition. Its well-conceived figures, including a funeral procession, a mother nursing a baby near a freshly dug tomb, and a dog relieving itself, are symbolic of life and death and enliven the space."
Now, I get the symbolism of the tomb and breastfeeding, but the dog pissing on a column? Now, I would have just left it alone as a goofball oddity if a cursory Google search hadn't uncovered two other dogs pissing on columns in two different paintings, Interior of the Oude Kerk, Delft
and Interior of the Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam
. Now, I feel compelled to point out that de Witte often painted dogs inside churches who weren't urinating (one random example
What was he going on about with the pissing dogs? Surely this has caught someone else's eye, there must be some scholarship. Can you point me to some de Witte experts discussing it?
Is this a common motif? Have painters, through the ages, had dogs piss in sacred spaces? I mean, besides editorial cartoonists. Is this well known in art history?
So, basically... what the hell is going on here?