Man’s Best Friend

I’ve had a reader request to look at the representation of our canine companions in art. When you actually look for them, there are a lot of dogs featuring in portraits, often gazing lovingly at the sitter and acting as symbols of faithfulness and loyalty.  In the 17th century, painted dogs could be found all over the place, especially in royal settings, so  I’ve posted some of the most endearing ones below.

Van Dyck 5 Eldest children of Charles I
The Five Eldest Children of Charles I (1637) by Sir Anthony Van Dyck
©Royal Collection

Eldest children of Charles I
The Eldest Children of Charles I, c.1640s, studio of Sir Anthony Van Dyck

Phil and Elizabeth Cary Van Dyck
Philadelphia and Elizabeth Cary (c.1635), by Sir Anthony Van Dyck
At the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia

Weesop Esme Stewart
Esme Stewart, 5th Duke of Lennox & 2nd Duke of Richmond (c.1633)
by John Weesop

Arbella Stewart 1605v2
Lady Arbella Stewart (1605), by Sir Robert Peake

Dobson, William, 1611-1646; James Compton (1622-1681), 3rd Earl of Northampton
James Compton, 3rd Earl of Northampton, after William Dobson
©National Trust, Knole

Of course, one of the most famous dogs of the 17th century has to be Prince Rupert’s pet, Boy. Said to have been a Standard Poodle, Boy (or Boye) has nevertheless been depicted as may different breeds over the years. Parliamentarian newsbooks during the civil wars of the 1640s, made numerous references to Rupert’s best friend, making sensational claims he was a messenger of the devil, or a ‘familiar’, a witch’s companion.  His image in art or print as a black, rather than white, animal ,would have played into the supernatural suspicion of the time. The below picture is attributed to Rupert’s sister, Louise, and could therefore claim to be a more faithful likeness than some others.


Dobson, William, 1611-1646; Prince Rupert (1619-1682), Colonel William Murray, and Colonel The Honourable John Russell (1620-1681)
Prince Rupert, Colonel William Murray and Colonel John Russell, by William Dobson

The dog in Dobson’s painting apparently bears the Prince’s initials on his collar, so it is  assumed it is meant to be Boy, even though this is clearly not a poodle. Sadly, despite bravely following his master into battle on numerous occasions, Boy was killed at the battle of Marston Moor in 1644.


Those Killigrews again!

Browsing the National Trust’s paintings on its website today, I came across this very likeable portrait, filled with symbolism and character (not to mention a devoted dog).

Thomas Killigrew (1612 - 1683) by William Sheppard (England c.1602 - Italy c.1660)

I was surprised to find I already knew who the man was, having seen his face countless times during my arty travels, but I’d never seen this painting before.

His name was Thomas Killigrew, and he was a Royalist, a Roman Catholic, a renowned wit, a theatre manager and dramatist.  You may be more familiar with him from Van Dyck’s elegant portraits of him:

Thomas Killigrew 2
Thomas Killigrew and (possibly) Lord William Crofts, from the Royal Collection

Thomas Killigrew 3
At Weston Park, Shropshire (Another version is at the NPG)

The artist of the top portrait is William Sheppard, painted in around 1650, in Venice, where Killigrew was living as a Royalist exile.  The image of Charles I tells of his loyalty to the recently executed king, and if you can see closely enough, on the table is a copy of Eikon Basilike (“The Image of the King”), which was said to have been written by Charles himself.

At the Restoration of Charles II, Killigrew returned from the continent and saw his loyalty rewarded with a position at Court, his sharp wit earning him a place in Samuel Pepys’ diary,  where it was noted that he held “the title of the King’s Foole or jester; and may with privilege revile or jeere any body, the greatest person, without offence, by the privilege of his place.” He was also an important player in the revival of English drama,  penning numerous plays himself, receiving a warrant to open a theatre company in 1660, and becoming Master of the Revels in 1673.

I always enjoy portraits such as this one, where the sitter is seen in his preferred environment, showing us not just his face but his occupation and pleasures, rather than a formulaic (if beautiful) depiction that tells us nothing of the man behind it. And I just love the dog!


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