It is an ancient breed way, steeped in tradition and many a romantic folklore tale has been written containing battles with the Gladiators in the arenas of Rome. There is indeed much evidence within the walls of various Museums of the world to support the fact that a large canine existed all those years ago, that was longer than he was tall, of feline gait, yet heavy boned and bodied with a dewlap formed under his chin.

Molosser Mastiff History

Terracotta Plaque Mesopotamian Molosser Dog. From Sippar modern-day Tell Abu Hubba, Babel Governorate, Iraq, Mesopotamia. Old-Babylonian, 2000-1600 BC, The British Museum.

Ancient artifacts, paintings, bas reliefs adorning buildings and public monuments in the cities of Italy bear testimony that this canine was an important figure in this part of the world, but was he anything like what we associate today as the Mastino Napoletano?

Molosser Roman Dog Neapolitan Mastiff History

From The history of Roman emperors and engraved by Bartolomeo Pinelli Rome, 1829.

We do know as a fact that following the Second World War, the numbers of Mastini in Italy became seriously depleted and that author Piero Scanziani made it his mission to resurrect the breed and protect it for the future. Scanziani was the son of a journalist, born in 1908, and spent his childhood in Lausanne, Switzerland, Lake Como, and Milan. He studied the classics at University and completed his degree in 1928, going on to emulate his father and become a journalist, but also between 1941 and 1980, he published more than twenty literary works and was nominated twice for the Nobel Prize. He became an expert on all breeds of dogs, studied animal psychology, and produced a popular dog magazine of the time 'Cane'.


In 1946, the plight of the Mastino Napoletano came to his attention and so began an extremely important time in its modern-day history.

Marisa Brivio Chellini nel 1977

Italian Judge Marisa Brivio Chellini in 1977.

Well-known Italian Breed judge and long-time Mastino fancier Marissa Chellini was a small girl in 1947. Her father was a shipping company owner, originally from the North of Italy but moved with his family back to the South following the end of the war to resume his business. The young Marissa, who had had a lifetime fascination with dogs, lived in a Villa on the outskirts of the city and recalls a groundsman called Gianni from the neighboring Villa and his constant companion, a Mastino Napoletano male who was joined one day by a smaller female. They would pay regular visits to house owners and small shops in the vicinity asking for any leftover food, which was in short supply at the time, so that the dogs could be fed. The names of this genial pair of Mastini were Guaglione and Pacchiana and it was not until many decades later that Marissa, on reading an article on Mastino history, realized that this pair from her childhood were the famous foundation Mastini belonging eventually to Scanziani!

Guaglione I in 1949 owner, Piero Scanziani. Photo from Mastino Napoletano -ricerca storica-, original source unkown.

Pacchiana a black female, Villanova kennel in 1949. Photo from Mastino Napoletano -ricerca storica-, original source unkown.

Marissa says;

I can clearly remember Gianni calling to the kitchen of my home and taking away old bread and scraps for his dogs. The male Guaglione was quite enormous, with height and length similar to the dogs of today. He had a very outgoing character and the children had no fear of petting him. The black female Pacchiana came later and she was a lot smaller in size and bones in particular, but she too was very friendly and it became a familiar sight in the neighborhood, this man and the two strange canine companions at his side.

There is no doubt that Scanziani is rightly attributed as the man who rescued the Mastino at this time in its recent history and without his timely intervention, highly probable that the breed would have died out completely. Scanziani was the person who planned and carried out its reconstruction in the late 1940s and 50s and it is no secret that this included a large injection of blood from other breeds, which accounted for the inconsistency in the type of the eras following. It was noted by Dr. Ruggero Soldati, a young veterinarian from Treviso in the North of Italy who had moved South and noticed the difference in appearance between dogs in Naples in particular when compared with the dogs in the North, although they shared the same genetic makeup. This inspired him at the same time as Scanziani began his work, to make a statistical study that provided the necessary information to write the first breed standard.

But the Mastino of that time was still a completely rustic animal. He lived on farms and large rural estates and he worked hard. Maybe Scanziani's breeding selections were based around function as much as or indeed even more than appearance to begin with, but we have through his writing, an insight into his vision for not only the Mastino but all breeds.

In 'Il Cane Utile' (The Useful dog) published in 1952, Scanziani writes;

The dog show’s primary fault is that it is based on a man’s judgments. The Judge in the Court makes mistakes, and so can our judge in the ring. There are some incompetent judges, who are a plague for cynophily and that should be kicked out. What is more, there are some judges who have no manners at all, who ill-treat the new expositors because they present ‘average’ dogs. They should be expelled for unworthiness from the show, which are the places where zootechnics and sports cordiality meet … The second fault of the shows is that the lovers are too much worried about beauty and peculiarity, forgetting the practical duty of a dog breed. On this subject, the English have reached degeneration making very beautiful Setters but unable to point, made stupid, and just able to stand on a ring. I know some Boxers and Alsatian breeders as bewildered by the shows as to believe that their dogs live just to pose to a judge. This is very dangerous, we must defend our dog from this attitude as it has destroyed many breeds.

So, we can assume that although Scanziani made his Guaglione the first Mastino Napoletano Italian Champion in 1949 after the breed was officially recognized by the ENCI, his aim was not simply to produce a beautiful dog for the show ring, but seriously consider his heritage. Scanzianis work, eventually produced seven Champions, including his first Champion under his own Allevamento, ' Villanova' in 1951. Allevamento di Villanova, and the obvious breed progression he achieved with Ch Ursus in 1954, was vital for the breed's very survival and so, we can confirm that Piero Scanziani was our first major influence on what we know today as a Mastino Napoletano.

Ursus of Villanova LIR 14581. Sired by Guaglione I and Spes of Villanova in 1954. Breeder Piero Scanziani, owner Dr. Pasquale Raimondi. Photo from Mastino Napoletano -ricerca storica-, source unkown.

Ursus of Villanova photo from Mastino Napoletano -ricerca storica-, source unknown.

Piero Scanziani Neapolitan Mastiff Expo

Piero Scanziani judges the 1974 Naples International Expo.