One of the first faces archeologists see when they chisel their way into an Egyptian tomb is the dog-headed god, Anubis, guarding the crypt. In Eastern Orthodox art, Saint Christopher is often depicted with the mug of a mutt, and the 15th century biblical retelling, the Nuremberg Chronicle, features an image of a man with a canine head. Images of dog-headed humans are ancient—but they aren’t extinct.
German painter Anja Wülfing recently began depicting dog-headed creatures (cynocephaluses?) in a strangely endearing new series of portraits. Rather than start from scratch, Wülfing paints the dog heads on old photos she’s found.
The series began a few years ago when Wülfing found a century-old photograph inside an old wooden frame.
“I started wondering about their lives and that there was nobody wanting to keep their memory,” she tells Creators. “I liked the idea of working with this photograph so the couples’ ‘journey’ might not yet be over. I painted an oversized bird in the photo and I was surprised that the scene felt strangely realistic. Later I started mixing humans-animal hybrids and they too looked familiar and natural on first sight.”
Wülfing moved on from painting oversized animals to actually painting animal heads on top of the people depicted in the pictures. Like an artistic sorceress she’d turn these long-forgotten people in bison, mules, frogs, and cats. But some of her most endearing are the dog-headed humans.
So far Wülfing has painted a Terrier, Chihuahua, Boxer, Beagle, Basset Hound, and a Labrador. To decide which dog breed to include, she scans the original portrait to find features that stand out “I want the overpainted parts to merge more or less with the scene,” she says, “so I usually look for details like a haircut, a hat, a pose, or a face expression that reminds me of the look or habit of an animal.” She compares this to that strange phenomenon that makes people look like their pets. “Sometimes it’s simply space that defines what I can paint on the photo for it to look as effortlessly and natural as possible,” she adds.
It’s not clear if these creatures are meant to be dog-like humans or human-like dogs. For Wülfing, they’re something else entirely. “For me they become gentle creatures of some different but potential reality,” she says. “A bit of fantasy, mythical creatures, humor, facts, and fiction. If our existence is a result of successive coincidences, what if a very early ancestor had turned ‘right instead of left’? Who knows how we would have been looking like today?”
All reasonable people have at one time or another wondered what it would be like to live as an animal. Many of us have even wished as much. I’d like to be a dolphin for a day. Wülfing says she’d like to be a fly. “But,” she clarifies, “if I had wings and had to forgo my arms and hands with all their abilities, I think I’d rather stick to the ground.”
See more of Anja Wülfing’s work on her website.