That daughter, Spes di Villanova, was then bred back to her father.
“The life of Guaglione is on the edge between the prehistory and history of the breed,” Scanziani wrote in an article in his Cani magazine in February 1951, comparing the dog to famous ancient founders like Romulus and Moses, who also had unknown parentage. “During my research, I was presented with a decrepit Mastino bitch who it was claimed was his dam, but it was obviously a lie, given in the hopes that I would buy the old ruin. As for the father, I had been given ten names, all of them inaccurate.”
Scanziani knew a handful of hard facts about Guaglione: He was whelped in 1944, probably in March. While he was an adolescent dog, he was acquired by a butcher. At the end of 1945, or perhaps in early 1946, he was sold to Carmine Puolo, a tram worker known in his crowded neighborhood as the “king of Pigna Secca,” because he carried himself with an air of royalty – and not a little Neapolitan eloquence.
Puolo was an ardent lover of mastiffs, and he recognized Guaglione’s quality straightaway. He sold his own mastiff in order to purchase him, reportedly for 30,000 lire, or roughly $170 in today’s dollars. It was a huge sum in those days, in particular in the poverty-striken quarters of Naples.
“And so Guaglione went to live in one of the thousand alleys of Pigna Secca, in a house that looked out onto a courtyard, a house that consisted of one room in which there lived the master, his wife, four or five children, assorted cats and kittens, a Pomeranian with her puppies, some chickens and a lamb, since it was close to Easter,” Scanziani wrote. “The huge Guaglione was tied near a wall of the room with a rope sufficient to hold a bull. In that narrow world – colorful, festive, noisy, sometimes filled with weeping but always spontaneous and lively – Guaglione lived for five years” – until Scanziani purchased him.
The inbreeding between Guaglione and his daughter Spes produced the popular sire Ursus della Villanova.
Scanziani lost no time in establishing Guaglione’s place in history: He became the first registered Mastino; he was the model for the first breed standard drafted by Soldati and worked on in tandem with Scanziani; and he became the breed’s first Italian champion, in 1951. (Ironically, Soldano, the famous judge who was so dismissive of Guaglione and the seven other dogs exhibited at that first show, later produced his own version of the Mastino standard.)
Eager to begin his work to revive – or, perhaps more accurately, reinvent – the breed, Scanziani rented space at the zoo in Rome. He then bred Guaglione to a bitch he had acquired at the same time, Pacchiana, resulting in a litter of eight, only one of which survived. That bitch, Spes di Villanova, was bred back to her father Guaglione, producing the well-known Ursus di Villanova, as well as his brother Uno di Villanova and sister Calliope di Villanova. With that inbreeding, Scanziani cemented Guaglione’s genetic impact on the breed.
The Villanova kennel did not produce many Mastino champions beyond those initial breedings, but there were more than enough to jettison the breed on its way. Neapolitan fanciers are quick to point out the many local names who did immeasurable work to help the breed survive and then thrive in those early years. But it was Scanziani who, as a prolific writer and an ardent fan of history, had just the right tools to weave a mythology and a cachet around these rustic Neapolitan dogs. His was the most tricky sort of alchemy, transforming a pedigree-less dog and his rough-around-the-edges cousins into a veritable phenomenon.
You Ought to Be in Pictures
In 1949, Piero Scanziani consulted on a short film called “L’Amico Fidele” (“The Faithful Friend”). In it, he introduces his school for dogs, Associazione del Cane da Difensa e D’Utilita (the Association of Dogs for Defense and Utility), and shows a number of breeds, from Dobermans to Boxers, being trained for obedience, protection and seeing-eye work.
Then we see a crop-eared, dock-tailed dog, with impressively good conformation. “Here is an Italian breed, the Molosser, descended directly from the Roman dog,” says the voiceover, which is supposedly Scanziani, though there is some debate on that. The dog is not identified, but from his side silhouette he could very well be Guaglione.
A Mastino – perhaps the same one – is also shown briefly doing bitework: The narrator describes him as a “young” dog, though Guaglione would have been a mature five years old at the time; since Scanziani acquired him the same year that the film was released, it is unlikely it is one of his offspring.
You decide: Is this the famous Guaglione?