Our Notes & References
Two consecutive illustrated broadsides announcing different rounds of large wild animal baiting involving the now-extinct Medelyan dogs.
In the first, larger broadside, a certain Vilgel invites viewers and participants to an eventful animal baiting on August 13th, 1833. This will take place in his so-called “amphitheatre”, an encircled area for fighting located at the Rogozhskaia gate, in the close outskirts of Moscow. “Bears, deliberately brought for the show from Tula animal house, will fight an Asian horse, who will be biting and kicking, to the audience’s surprise” (our translation). This is followed by the baiting of a wild bull from the steppes of the Black Sea region and the best Medelyan dogs, as depicted in the naïve, striking woodcut. Vilgel also invites all hunters to bring their own medelyans for participation: “after the dogs completely catch” the animal, the hunters “can take the bull in lassos”, which would mean its death, if we understand rightly “priniat na arkany”, an unusual Russian expression now used in the prisoners’ jargon.
It seems however that Vilgel’s fights didn’t always end up as he wished or anticipated: as we learn in the second announcement, a Black Sea wild bull (the same?) “in front of the audience, knocked off a giant door and killed the best dog”. This is not a failure though and Vilgel sees there, instead, an opportunity for entertainment and sensational announcement. On September 17th, joining forces with a fellow entertainer called Bardin, he is organising a new fight between many different hunting dogs and wild animals, followed by a baiting of their own best hunting dogs with the surviving wild bull. The organizers hope to satisfy the audience but warn the hunters to not bring young dogs to the fight.
Medelyans were among the oldest and the largest hunting dogs in Russia. First mentioned in the 15th century, they used to participate in public baiting of wild animals on a regular basis. The largest kinds could apparently overwhelm a bull with one strike and go one on one with a bear. Held among kings and the highest nobility, one medelyan dog could sometimes cost as much as a purebred horse.
After the ban on bear baiting in the 1860s, the breed began to decline rapidly, and by the October Revolution, medelyans as a pure breed practically disappeared. The famous author Aleksandr Kuprin owned a medelyan called Sapsan, who shared some thoughts about the world and people in an eponymous short story published in 1916.