The documented history of the Italian Volpino is a long journey from the 4th century B.C. until today.
Let's start from the very beginning:
Italian Volpino is just the last recent name used to call this breed which is at least 2500 years old (but it could be even older). It belonged to the ancient Greeks and Romans. In fact, there are many artistic depictions and literary sources showing and talking about a small-medium "foxy  looking" dog, with erected ears, curled tail and medium-long fur. Without any doubt those dogs where the straight ancestors of our modern medium-small Spitz dog breeds, including the Italian Volpinos. They were called Melitaeus Catulus by the ancient Romans while the ancient Greeks were calling them Melitaion Kunidion. They were mainly used as pets, but they were also valid alarm/watch dogs and discrete mice hunters.

Let's see some ancient evidence of these dogs in Italy:

Red figured amphora with handles
Vulci 480 B.C.
Currently held at The British Museum
Image dating the Etruscan Era in Tuscany (Italy)
Image from the italian Book
Annali dell'Instituto di corrispondenza archeologica 1829

Terracotta Hellenistic rhyton from Puglia (Italy). Late 4th–early 3rd century B.C. Currently held at the Metropolitan Museum.
Terracotta rhyton in the shape of a dog’s head ca. 350–300 B.C.
Puglia (Italy) Currently held at the Metropolitan Museum.

Terracotta rhytonin the shape of a dog’s head  (vase for libations or drinking) ca. 350–300 B.C.
Puglia (Italy) Currently held at the Metropolitan Museum.
Chous , Puglia (Italy) 360 B.C.-350 B.C.
Currently held at The British Museum.
Etruscan Coin
300 B.C.
Terracotta found in Egypt (Roman period)
400-100 B.C.
Roman Coin (Denario)
146 B.C.
Roman Terracotta Statue Ruvo (Italy)
Currently held at The British Museum.
Fresco located in Pompeii
the date is unknown but it must be older then the 79 A.D.
Bronze Roman Ring
100 - 300 A.D.
Roman terracotta statue
100 - 300 A.C.
Roman Ivory statue
200 A.C.

Grave Stele for a dog, Italy (Rome), marble, ca. 150 – 200 A.D.
Currently held at The J. Paul Getty Museum
Aristocratic Italian Volpinos and Rustic Italian Volpinos
The Italian Volpinos have been really common in Italy for many centuries. They were appreciated by all the Italian social classes, the richest and the poorest.
These particular circumstances originated different types of Volpinos as the Italian Elite class and the Italian Working and Poor Classes needed different dogs and soon the "Aristocratic" Volpinos and the "Rustic" Volpinos became slightly different dogs.
The "Aristocratic" volpinos were mainly bred for aesthetic purposes (pet and dog show) while the "Rustic" volpinos were mainly bred for working purposes. The "Aristocratic" volpinos were (and actually are) mostly totally white and the "Rustic" volpinos were (and actually are) nearly any colour but often red and almost never totally white.
We can find old paintings and photos showing different types of Volpinos in different environments.

"La visione di San't Agostino"
Vittore Carpaccio 1502
Agriculture Fair in Foggia (Italy) late 17th century A.D.

"A Volpino Italiano and other dogs in an interior"
John Charlton 1870
"Monte Testaccio"
Charles Coleman 1850 (Rome, Italy)
Painting inside the Basilica di San Marco, Venice (Italy)
Andrea Landini 1875-1885
"L'arresto di Luisa Sanfelice"
Modesto Faustini
(1839 - 1891)
Wine cart
Charles Coleman 1850
"Il cagnolino nero"
Enrico Coleman 1846-1911
"Un pubblico attento"
Antonio Ermolao Paoletti
(1834 - 1912)

Buffaloes with block of travertine in repose
Charles Coleman 1850
"Good Dogs"
John Charton 1870
Animali da Presepe
Vecchio catalogo d'asta

Enrico Coleman
Francesco Londonio
Francesco Coleman
Francesco Londonio
"Perché non dirlo?"
Giovanni Fattori
1890 ca
Held at the Gallerie degli Uffizi (Florence)
"Il plurito dell'asino"
Filippo Palizzi
"Parco degli Acquedotti"
Enrico Coleman 1846-1911

"Passeggiata in Via Caracciolo, Napoli"
Filippo Palizzi
Rome approximately 1950
"Il Carrettiere"
Filippo Palizzi
"Nella stalla"
Filippo Palizzi
Wine cart
Enrico Coleman 1846-1911
"La bambina e il cane"
Armando Spadini
(Florence) 1883 - 1925
Farmers after WW2 in Italy
The favourite carter's dog
Until the early 19th century, just before the large use of motor cars, in Italy it was very popular  transporting goods by cart and, as you can notice by looking the artworks above, the Rustic Italian Volpinos were often represented next to a cart. In fact the Volpinos were the favorites working dogs of the carters (especially wine carters) as these dogs were easy and cheap to find, small and easy to transport on the cart and they were great anti theft alarms against any stranger trying to get close to the goods.

Wine Carters with Rustic Italian Volpinos
Rome 1890 - 1930 ca.
 Shepherds and Rustic Italian Volpinos
To better protect their livestock, many Italian shepherds used to keep Volpinos with their sheepdogs. Thanks to his very acute hearing and his excellent eyesight the Volpino detects immediately early signs of  danger (especially wolves) and acts as an alarm for the big sheepdogs.  
The photo below was taken in the 50's in the montain of Abruzzo region (Italy) and shows a shepherd with his 6 Abruzzese sheepdogs (Cane da pastore abruzzese) and a Rustic Italian Volpino.
Queen Victoria's Volpinos
During her visit in Tuscany (24th March - 22nd April 1888), Queen Victoria fell in love with the Italian Volpino and she imported to England four Italian Volpinos: Marco, Beppo, Lina and Gina.
During her second visit in Tuscany (23rd March - 26th April 1893) Queen Victoria imported more Volpinos to England, including Turi, the white Italian Volpino pictured with Queen Victoria (Photo below).
Of course the Volpinos imported from Italy by Queen Victoria were beautiful "aristocratic" Volpinos bought from aristocratic Italians.
For more details about the history of Queen Victoria's Volpinos in England please visit:
Bred for Function vs Bred for Show
A perfect example of a Volpino with primitive functional working characteristics (Left Portrait) and  a Volpino with purely aesthetic  characteristics (Right Portrait).
Left Portrait:
Volpino Italiano
"Angelo Vecchio,
Il Cane, Razze mondiali, allevamento,
ammaestramento, malattie e rimedi. Milano Hoepli 1887
Manuale Hoepli"
Right Image:
Modern Volpino Italiano  ENCI

Fortunately, there are few breeders still breeding Rustic Italian Volpinos looking just like the Italian Volpinos described in the 1887's book.
The dog on the right is Shada (one of our Females).
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