Many a word has been written over the passage of time about one Uberto Omar Gasche, due to his heritage, his work as breeder of Mastini and an artist, and how that work encapsulates his passion for both women and canines of the beautiful and spectacular variety. It is virtually impossible to categorise this instantly recognisable figure, since its true to say, God certainly broke the mould after he created the unique and charismatic person that is Sig. Gasche. . Kim Slater
In memory of Afra
Uberto Gasche - The Man and his Mastini
Many a word has been written over the passage of time about one Uberto Omar Gasche, due to his heritage, his work as breeder of Mastini and an artist, and how that work encapsulates his passion for both women and canines of the beautiful and spectacular variety. It is virtually impossible to categorise this instantly recognisable figure, since its true to say, God certainly broke the mould after he created the unique and charismatic person that is Sig. Gasche.
I have been fortunate to have known Uberto for more than ten years, following an introduction made by my friend and one of my first mentors, Mr George Zadeh of Allevamento Faynad. Having been a Mastino owner for more than two years at that time, I had become fairly confident of my education and progress. However, on that first visit to Uberto Gasche in Rome I realised that I had only just scratched the surface of what has become a long and fascinating voyage of discovery into this world of the Mastino. Looking back at that visit, Uberto certainly had the misfortune to find himself in the company of an extremely naive and simplistic person, with a never ending list of impertinent questions, but I can recall how he displayed amazing patience to explain to me the fundamental basics of various head types, size and stature and a favourite memory of mine, an involved 4 hour lecture on muzzles and noses, so fascinating to me but not to George Zadeh, who promptly fell asleep in an armchair, whilst the question and answer session continued well into the early hours of the morning, accompanied by several pots of espresso!
I, therefore have much to be thankful for, to this man who first opened the door for me to the Italian world of Mastino, which is of course, unlike any other, both in its history and up to the modern day. This is a man who courts controversy, who has very forthright views and opinions not necessarily which conform to those of the masses or indeed, of other breed experts. He is as many artists, volatile, unpredictable and stubborn. But who is also responsible for the creation of many Mastini of such heartbreaking beauty, power, and grace, who tirelessly works with the many dogs in his care, along with his partner Annette Briesmeister, seven days a week in an unique freestyle living environment where its possible to see how deep is his understanding of each dogs individual character, as he exerts total control simply by his presence and the use of his voice.
Speaking from personal experience, I have always found Uberto to be very generous, both with information sharing and also with praise and recognition bestowed on other breeders who's work he admires. Here on Colosseo site, we already have a large and often visited forum on Allevamento Del Bengasche, showing many dogs of the past , but following my recent visit to Rome a few weeks ago, it is possible to share the current Bengasche Mastini with the membership. The trip was undertaken as a social visit and gathering of long time friends as well as an opportunity to write this article. For as well as myself, George Zadeh and Steve Cox of Allevamento Rayvonley also made the trip from UK to Rome for what was a memorable (and as on any trip to Bengasche) educational and inspirational weekend.
Arriving at the historical Villa Ada is almost akin to arrival on the set of Jurassic Park. Located in one of Rome's most beautiful public parks, the villa itself is surrounded by a high natural bamboo fence and on approaching though the trees, one can hear the noise of the many beasts contained within its perimeters. At first, its the natural noises of animal interaction, whines and yipping in play, many feet scampering around and then, the snorting near the fence and finally, the warning barks in true Mastino fashion that a stranger is around the camp, rising into a crescendo as each of the dogs looks to make themselves heard!
There we encountered in the courtyard, Uberto Gasche, dressed in his unique style of combat style flak jacket and sporting the Fez, worn in recognition of his Egyptian connections. He spent many years living in Alexandria as a child and his father still resides there today. After the warm greetings we immediately got down to the business of viewing the current collection Bengasche creations. First out of the gates came the statuesque sight of Destino. This was enough to start pulses racing, as Uberto demonstrated the superb construction by moving him around the courtyard to display his panther like grace and power. This four year old male was immediately reminiscent to me, of the great Nihal. On voicing my opinion, I was informed Destino is actually a son of Nihal.
Following Destino came Giove and what a pleasure to see in reality this Pardo son who has completed such an amazing transformation (see previous forum for pictures) from an ugly ducking to a beautiful swan. He is tall, around 78cm, very dark solid grey in colour, elegant, with harmonious neck and topline and wonderful spring of rib.
It was evident that Giove has passed much on to his offspring, who already display the potential to surpass their father, particularly in terms of bone mass, once the "I" litter began to emerge from behind the kennel gates. In this case, the "I" must stand for IMPRESSIVE as we viewed one after another of these outstanding young Mastini. One cannot really put into words the feelings evoked, when confronted by such dogs and females of high quality and consistency, with only minor differences to separate one from another.
This is undoubtedly the single most lasting memory of my visits to Rome over the years. You are looking at a family, over so many generations and in great numbers. Brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunties, uncles, grandparents, great grandparents and even great great grandparents, since some of the Bengasche Mastini are living lives in excess of ten years. The super magnificent Afra, who remains my personal favourite Bengasche female and is depicted in an amazing study at the start of this article, lived until eleven years of age and her son Pardo still patrols the grounds to this day, having almost nine years. But they are without question, a family. Each bearing the hallmark â€™Bengascheâ€™ and are living breathing examples of one mans vision of the Mastino, which has been amended and adjusted over the years, but has never stood still through the generations. Even a female aquired from a person Uberto holds in very high esteem (and speaks about with much affection) Santino Ardolino, displays so much similarity in type and particularly expression, she looks like she was born at Bengasche.
When questioned on the subject of numbers and also his style of Mastini, Uberto states; "I have always and will always, breed for myself and myself alone. I am not breeding to sell puppies as I do not wish to sell what I cannot keep. I wish to try to keep almost everything I breed. You can see here so many maiden females because I have maybe only one or two litter of puppies a year and you can see the numbers of the dogs I keep as although I am most well known for my Mastini, I am also keeping other breeds that I love. The English Mastiffs, the Great Danes and the Greyhounds". Annette Breismeister confirms this statement and adds "Most people know Uberto as a breeder of Mastini, but many do not know that he is also a canine collector, who believes every beautiful dog must remain with him here!"
We move on to discuss what constitutes the ideal Mastino in the eyes of Uberto Gasche. He explains; "If you have before you what appears to be a complete Mastino aged 12 months, then this will not be the kind of adult I will like. I like Mastini to mature over a longer time and am patient to wait. My ideals are always to create an elegant complete Mastino with strength in the construction. The height, a little bit tall, the neck, the legs and the body all a little bit long. Because always I am looking to create more the movement of feline. This created me a big dilemma when considering the width of my dogs, as they can appear a little too narrow in the chest, but a little too wide and you lose all the grace from the movement for me, so this is such a fine line to draw and is my challenge to overcome".
The conversation inevitably leads us to discuss how creation of a Mastino with this taller and more elegant profile is being achieved and the current obsession with talk of cross breeding. Uberto gives a wry smile and says; "Yes, the talk is of working with English Mastiff of a certain type and I know some breeders to have used this method a lot. I too experimented once a long time ago with use of Mastiff, but for me was not a success and I did not like the results of this influence at all. People who think I work a lot with Mastiff need to look at Mastiff type and try to apply this to my Mastini. When I want to work with the Mastiff, I work to create a new breed simply for my own pleasure and call it the Molosser Del Bengasche! This is all I need to say". The statement is followed by another wry grin which is returned by the author!
As one after another Mastini are expertly handled, placed in show stance and moved elegantly across the ground, the talk turns to the world of show and why Bengasche Mastini no longer often grace the rings of the Italian show scene. Everybody can recall the days when as many as a group of ten would be paraded in the ring handled by Uberto alone, making an unforgettable spectacle for the viewing public. He says "The show world is very political these days and it is possible to look at the list of entries beforehand and predict exactly who will win the show, depending on the judge and the location. I am no longer enthusiastic to attend as it is a lot of hard work to prepare dogs for show, sometimes driving long distances with many dogs. I am also critiquing my own Mastini and accept and listen to the opinions of Mastinari who come to visit me. But my own particular preferences are not always dogs people like for show. For example, Hamis Del Bengasche ( a show quality male now living in UK with George Zadeh) is a dog most people will love, as he is super correct for show, he stands well, moves well, and is of good all round type and outgoing personality. But for me, I prefer this dog ( he displays a dog a little narrow with enormous bones and of stupendous type) because I see he has something different, something special and that is what I like to see, but is not a dog for show". With this comment, it is possible to have a small insight into the all important creativeness of Uberto Gasche which also supports his previous statement of breeding for himself. He was prepared to let go of Hamis, a show dog and one some other breeders of great eminence greatly admired , but the dog not for show cannot be bought for any price!
When asked what he thought of the state of the breed today, he commented "There are many good dogs now all over the world because people have been able to buy many important dogs from Italy which never previously would have been sold. This is a criticsm of mine, that I fear the Italian Mastinaro has sold too many important dogs to remain in total control of the future of the breed, but the good part is that the breed has improved on the world wide stage." But he goes on to say "In some cases, breeders have become stuck, they seem to have run out of ideas on how to progress and go around a little in circles or return even to the past. But I am interested in only moving forward. The Mastino should always be one that is constantly evolving and there is much that can be done to improve of course. I have a great admiration for the breeders of the past and learned a lot from many of them at the beginning of my days as a breeder. It is great to see today that people such as Rafael Scognamiglio after all these years as a breeder, has something to offer the future of the Mastino also and has in his possession what I call a very important dog in Neronesecondo".
"I have also found Vincenzo Manna to be a very clever breeder and although we have different ideas on some things, I have a deep appreciation and respect for his work and what he has achieved in a relatively short time with his Mastini. That is, an impressive type of dog one can recognise as being of his breeding. I also have a great affection for Vito Salito of Baia Verde who I think has a great passion, is very simpatico and very creative. Also Patrizio Vitale has worked well and is making some interesting progress with the dogs he has. If I am talking frankly and openly, the most unique dog and the best of the best of all time was in my opinion, the Mastino created by Salvatore Scherma, Brigante Del Castellaccio. Really, I am an admirer of a beautiful Mastino wherever I see one and today, this cannot be limited to Italy alone."
This article could not be complete without making some reference to the temperament of the Bengasche Mastini, as so much has been commented on their appearance. The effect of the free living is quite startling. They are immensely well socialised, even tempered animals. Basically living in a pack environment and never alone, they are curious of strangers, but display no overt aggression towards them, simply watchfulness and providing one behaves in a normal manner and does not take liberties, a confidence quickly emerges, to approach the visitor and start a friendship.
Hamida, litter sister of Hamis
After several hours of being hands on with the Mastini, and as the daylight faded, we retired indoors to talk more and view some of Ubertos artwork. A stunning collection of sepia photographs on aged parchment paper was brought for display and again you are reminded of this man's talent as an artist. I came away with one amazing portrait which is now my treasured posession. This study is one of only five in the world and the subjects are of Maria Cristina, the only daughter of Uberto and one Ritorno Del Bengasche , which is a Mastino of personal significance to myself. I thought to share this lasting image.
I would like to conclude this article with a statement from Steve Cox of Rayvonley who said following the trip, "Despite knowing Uberto Gasche for twelve years, meeting many times in UK and having some of his important bloodlines in my own Mastini, this was the first opportunity to visit him in Rome. I have to say, I was blown away by the experience of witnessing first hand, this persons relationship with his dogs and how well cared for they are in such great numbers. Uberto is a Mastinaro always to be taken seriously and one to also be admired for his commitment and dedication for so many years and a passion for Mastino that has never diminished in all that time."
I, Kim Slater, would add my own heartfelt thanks to Uberto Gasche and Annette Briesmeister for the invite to visit, putting in all the hard work to show and discuss the merits of the many Mastini and for giving the insight into their day to days
lives, leaving me as always, with much food for thought and many outstanding memories. Also most importantly, for allowing me to attempt to share the experiences with the Colosseo Membership.
The word "Legend" is so often overused these days, but in the case of Uberto Gasche, if the Fez fits, then one should wear it!
Allevemento del Bengashe is located in Rome, Italy Website: http://xoomer.alice.it/bengasche/
Kim Slater resides in the UK