The Lagotto Romagnolo is an ancient breed of water retriever whose origins lie in the marshlands of northeast Italy in Ravenna. As these wetlands disappeared, people found a new use for this special breed - truffle sniffer. Truffles, an underground fungus, even today are worth more per pound than gold and dogs who can detect them are obviously worth their weight in gold too. The Lagotto Romagnolo is one of the few, if not only, breeds that have an affinity for this lucrative work in Europe.
The name of the breed comes from Romagna, a place in Italy where the breed was locally known as "Can Lagot" which means "water dog" or "wetland hunting dog with crimpled, curly coat". You can occasionally hear this breed referred to as the Romagna Water Dog.
There were already canines that bear resemblance to the Lagotto Romagno dogs during the Etruscan civilization, well before the rise of the Roman Empire.
The Lagotto, with its remarkable nose and strong desire to do the truffle hunter's bidding, was guarded closely for centuries. The breed, with its looks reminiscent of the Barbet and Poodle, has changed little over the years. Despite cross-breeding, there were still enough pure-bloods left to ensure that the breed would stabilize in the 20th century.
Below is beautifullly fabulous 1600s painting. The President of the CIL (Italian Lagotto Club), Dr. Morsiani, is also a dealer in antiquities and art. On a personal webpage he describes how accurate this depiction is of the Lagotto and how highly esteemed this dog is to the painter, in this self-portrait. The text, translated loosely, describes how interesting, from an artistic standpoint, this painting is and also about how correct this dog is today by the Standard for the breed. The artist's name is "il Guercino" or the "blinker".
...and here is a bit more of a detail:
Fun fact: famous artist Andrea Mantegna in the 1474 painted a work entitled "The Meeting". If you look in the lower left corner of the picture below, you'll se a depiction of a small dog that is the perfect image of today's Lagotto.
The Meeting, detail from west wall of the Camera degli Sposi, Palazzo Ducale at Mantua, Italy.