Dogs in Art: Man’s Best Friend and keepers of Devotional Relationship
This entry was posted on March 2, 2023.
From the ancient era to the present world, dogs have always been faithful companions of human beings. From being hunting buddies to beloved pets, dogs have come a long way as man’s best friend. Throughout these years, many artists have not forgotten to include dogs in art pieces to pay homage to their favorite companions.
They took different forms as hunting dogs, companions, and loyal beings in many paintings that can even be dated back thousands of years. Dog painting and dog portraits often depict dogs as symbols of loyalty, protection, and companionship. Some cultures even gave them spiritual respect by associating them with the gods and goddesses they worshipped.
While we may no longer be paying homage to dogs by including them in major art pieces, we still love to have a Hand painted dog portrait in our house as they still are a symbol of loyalty and devotion to us.
1. History of Dogs in Art
- The Ancient Period
- Medieval and Renaissance Period
- 18th and 19th Century
- Contemporary Works
2. Dog In Art: Devotional Relationships In Different Contexts
3. Famous Dog Paintings Drawn Throughout The History
- Cave Cavern - Ancient Dog Mosaic
- Weighing of the Heart - Ancient Egyptian Painting
- Venus of Urbino by Titian - Renaissance Painting
- Dog At Rest by G.Dou. - 17th Century Painting
- A Couple of Foxhounds by George Stubbs - 18th-Century Painting
History Of Dogs In Art
In today’s world of technology, it is not hard to pay homage to your dogs as there are applications that can easily make a painting out of a picture of your dog. You can turn their pictures into cute bitmojis or icons. There are even excellent home decor and similar stores that can make you a good toy dog to keep as a showpiece in your house.
The situation was not, however, the same back in the day. Artists had to work hours to make a painting with the limited resources and paints they may have had. But this never stopped them from making great portraits and sculptures, enriching our visual history.
When we trace the history of dogs in art, we can find that they were present across periods, from the cave paintings of ancient times to the contemporary works of the modern era. They have always been significant art subjects, regardless of the era.
Let us look through the brief history of dogs in the art below.
1. The Ancient Period
As mentioned earlier, dog portraits and dog paintings were famous even from the ancient period when cave paintings were the most popular kind of artwork. The type of dogs they drew and the setting in which they drew them are also important indicators of the culture followed by different civilizations worldwide.
Many children’s toys, statues, and tombs with dog portraits on their walls got discovered worldwide, dating back to the Bronze Age. Most of these paintings, especially the ones with dogs in art as hunting companions, described the hunting scene of their time.
Dogs were important subjects in ancient Egyptian art, and their art depicted these beings in various forms, including companion dogs, hunting dogs, etc. Most ancient Egyptian dog paintings depicted dogs as their hunting companions and associated them with Anubis. Anubis is the God they worshipped as the guardian of the underworld and the guide to the deceased.
Ancient Greeks saw dogs as spiritual beings and considered them guardians or protectors. Dogs also symbolized loyalty and companionship to them. Most of the dogs in ancient greek art that we find depicted dogs as devotional beings. Many of these paintings also associated these animals with Diana, the goddess of hunting.
2. Medieval and Renaissance Period
Dogs continued to be present in various artworks during the Medieval and Renaissance periods. There are a lot of portraits with dogs in them from this period that is still very popular. This popularity even resulted in the creation of applications that can turn a picture of your dog child into a renaissance painting like the one shown in the below image.
Dogs in art slightly shifted from being depicted as hunting dogs and companions in hunting scenes to being depicted in various mythological and religious scenes. In this era, dogs became the symbols of companionship and unconditional love. During the Renaissance and middle ages, dogs in art became symbols of loyalty and fidelity.
One good example of dogs in art in the religious context of the Renaissance period is the Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife (1434) by Jan van Eyck. This picture has a small dog that belongs to the dog breed Griffin Terrier standing between a couple’s feet. It is speculated that the small dog represents the marital fidelity and loyalty the lovers shared. This famous art piece now hangs in the National Gallery, London.
During the Renaissance and medieval ages, upper-class people and royalty documented and immortalized their companionship with dogs through paintings through which we can understand their social standing. One famous example of such a dog portrait with its master is Lavina Fontana’s 1580s painting Portrait of a Noblewoman. The painting was of a Bolognese noblewoman in rich clothes and exquisite jewelry accompanied by her little dog.
However, this doesn’t mean dogs in the art of the Renaissance age only depicted their loyal and caring qualities. Secular art that showed dogs working with their masters still existed, like the hunting scenes of ancient times. One such example of a fantastic dog painting is Hunters in The Snow by Pieter Bruegel, The Elder. This painting depicts a hunting scene in which a couple of hunters are shamefully returning from an unsuccessful hunt, followed by their loyal hunting companions.
While these are some great examples of Medieval and Renaissance paintings with a good depiction of dogs in art, the list, of course, does not end here. There are numerous other examples of similar paintings that symbolize dogs’ loyalty, fidelity, and companionship.
3. 18th and 19th Century
Dogs continued appearing in artworks after the Renaissance in the 18th and 19th centuries. While dogs in art works continued depicting loyalty and companionship, these now were works that showed everyday life, unlike their predecessors.
Such a shift in the setting of art helped in the making of dog portraits that made them the main subject and stars of the work. One such famous dog painting that gained a lot of popularity is the still life painting by Paul Gauguin called Still Life With Three Puppies which features three little puppies.
Another dog painting that prominently depicts canines as the key subjects of the work is the famous Dogs Playing Poker, an iconic and unique series by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge in the year 1894. The first painting released in the series was Poker Game, followed by 16 other oil paintings. Its final one was released in 1910, more than fourteen years after the first one came out. This dog portrait series helped cement dogs as significant art subjects in the modern era.
4. Contemporary Works
Dogs in art also appear in the modern era of our 21st century. The contemporary works of dogs in art in this 21st century that stand out the most are the works of Jeff Koons. His dog art may be among the most famous of all the canine artworks that have come out so far.
The dog in the artwork of Jeff Koons, larger-than-life Balloon Dog, and Puppy sculptures standing at the Broad in Los Angeles, California, and at Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain, respectively, are undoubtedly the most popular and unique contemporary dog in artworks.
Inspired by the Puppy sculpture of Jeff Koons, many dog lovers even started painting their dogs. This trend of painting a dog’s body is now standard, especially for dogs presented in dog shows. But it is essential to do this safely by using safe paints to avoid putting your furry friend at any kind of risk.
The contemporary works involving dogs in art also include several modern art pieces. One such work is the Portrait Of Maurice by Andy Warhol, a dog portrait of the dog breed Dachshund. Another excellent example of such a contemporary work is Head of a Dog by Edvard Munch.
It may be hard to name some iconic dogs in art paintings of the 21st century. But several artists now post several dog paintings on their social media handles that they did on their own or they commissioned. So, dogs being subjects of art pieces is still very relevant, and they continue symbolizing devotional relationships in all such works.
Dog In Art: Devotional Relationships Of Different Contexts
Dogs were used in art pieces to symbolize different kinds of devotional relationships. They ranged from romantic ones like unconditional love, fidelity, loyalty, etc., to non-romantic ones like platonic devotional relationships.
Dogs are subjects of paintings to depict different kinds of contexts. Paintings like Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife and Venus of Urbino used dogs as subjects to represent marital fidelity. These paintings used dogs to depict devotional relationships in a romantic context.
Paintings like The Washing of Feet by Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto used the dog perched beside Jesus and his disciples as a subject to depict the act of cleansing. It also acts as a symbol of the affection and devotion Jesus Christ has toward his disciples. The painting used the dog as a subject to depict devotional relationships in a non-romantic context.
Another painting with a dog that symbolizes a devotional relationship without involving romance is The Adoration of Kings by Paolo Veronese. As the name suggests, the painting tells the story of The Three Kings that visit baby Christ after his birth.
If we look at the painting closely, we will notice how to the bottom-right of it, there is a dog that blends very well with its surroundings. The dog's presence in the picture symbolizes devotion to Christ and how every being shares this devotion towards their god, while it may not be so obvious.
Famous Dog Paintings Drawn Throughout The History
To understand how dogs became the gatekeepers of devotional relationships in art throughout history, we must look through the major artworks with dogs as subjects from the ancient period to the contemporary world. To fully understand how dogs symbolized devotional relationships, loyalty, fidelity, and much more, we must understand what each of the best dogs in artworks meant or what they were trying to say.
Lady Hamilton (1782) by George Romney
1. Cave Cavern - Ancient Dog Mosaic
The most ancient dog portrait and the most popular dog in art during the bygone era is the Cave Canem, discovered in Pompeii, Rome, in the House of The Tragic Poet. This Roman mosaic can be dated back to the first century BC.
The dog portrait that depicted a fierce canine had the words ‘Cave Canem’ carved into it, which translates to ‘Beware of The Dog’. Ancient people may have hung the mosaic to warn people of the presence of a dog in the house. The sign is similar to the Beware of Dog signs we hang now.
From this mosaic, it is not wrong to believe that ancient Romans considered hounds not only their hunting companions but also animals that could protect them from alien threats. This portrait is indicative that dogs were symbols of guardians for them.
2. Weighing of the Heart - Ancient Egyptian Painting
Another famous painting of the ancient period that perfectly captures the devotional relationship that dogs held in art is the Egyptian painting, Weighing of the Heart. This art piece now hangs at the British Museum, London.
The painting depicts the ancient Egyptians’ belief that the heart gets weighed against the feather of Maat, goddess of truth and justice, after the death of a person. The idea is that Anubis carefully watches this scale, and Thoth, the god of writing, records the readings. As you can see, they are accompanied by our four-legged friend, making it another excellent example of the depiction of the devotional relationship of dogs in art.
3. Venus of Urbino by Titian - Renaissance Painting
This oil painting by the Italian painter Titian, also known as the Reclining Venus, is probably the most famous dog in the art of the middle ages. Titian painted this painting depicting a sleeping dog lying beside a naked goddess who lies reclined in her bed. This painting which the artist completed in 1534, is a prime example of the use of dogs as symbols of devotional relationships in art.
The Venus of Urbino may have been a painting commissioned to celebrate the viewer’s and the woman’s marriage. The tiny dog sleeping in the image symbolizes the devotion, loyalty, and unconditional love the intended viewer shares for the woman in the painting. This final painting now hangs in the Galleria degli Uffizi Museum of Florence.
4. Dog At Rest by G.Dou. - 17th Century Painting
After Paul Gauguin’s Still Life With Three Puppies, several other artists drew paintings with dogs as the prime subjects of their paintings. One such painting is the one done by Gerrit Dou in 1650, Dog At Rest. As it says in the name of the painting, it is a detailed drawing of a sleeping dog with its back resting on a terracotta jug.
Art enthusiasts and those keen on learning art history have noticed how the same dog appears in another one of Dou’s paintings. So, it is possible that the puppy was his beloved family pet. Thus, this painting may be a token of his love for his pet animal and personal friend. It makes the work another example of dogs being the gatekeepers of devotional relationships in art. This dog portrait is now one of the most famous art pieces in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
Dog At Rest is not a single case of artists including their pets in their paintings. Many artists like Dou paid homage to their pets through their works. Another good example is the famous Dog painting by Pablo Picasso, a simple yet charming sketch of his dog called Lump
5. A Couple of Foxhounds by George Stubbs - 18th-Century Painting
George Stubbs is among the most celebrated animal painters in art history. He completed the work, A Coupls of Foxhounds, in 1792. He was commissioned for this art piece by Reverend Thomas Vyner, a distinguished member of the society who used to own hounds as his pets and was an expert on hound breeding.
The two dogs depicted in the picture or painting appear as if conversing with each other and seem to be a bit diligent after getting the scent of another pack of hounds nearby. The artwork focuses on just the two dogs as the subjects of it, like the many animal portraits that Stubbs has painted.
Many art enthusiasts believe the artist attempted to depict isolation through the dogs' posture. The elevated head of the dog and the position of its ear makes it clear to the viewers that the dog is paying attention to something that is not visible to us.
A human's closest allies, dogs, are important animals that share a very close devotional relationship with us. Our visual history has remembered to pay homage to these beings that spread unconditional love by dedicating a considerable number of paintings to them throughout the centuries.
Artists used dogs as symbols of love and fidelity, making them the gatekeepers of devotional relationships in art. There is also a belief that our four-legged friends can also appreciate art and that they enjoy the stimulus offered by many works of art.
These wonderful, loyal beings still symbolize faithfulness to all human beings, making them one of the best animals in the world. Dogs are, thus, indeed man’s best friend.
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