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.

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  1. My favourite is the 5 Eldest Children of Charles I. I have a post card of it at my desk. But I was thrilled to see the portrait of James Compton! How different he looks from his brother William. I hadn’t seen that painting before.


  2. I’d love to see the original one of Compton, but it’s apparently in a private collection, so this is the closest we can get, sadly. The brothers are quite different to look at, I agree, although I notice from Dobson’s portraits that they have the same nose!

    I like Lady Arbella’s little handbag dog. 🙂


  3. Susanne

     /  May 2, 2017

    Thank you for this lovely post. I have been away and have not seen it until now but I am, as always, impressed and delighted by the richness and diversity of the colours of 17th Century paintings.

    My favourite is without a doubt the painting of the little Esmé Stewart. The colours are fantastic and the way the little boy, quite without fear, has his hand placed on the head of the dog, which is almost as large as himself, is a nice touch. The dog on the other hand looks more long-suffering than adoring. Look what I have to put up with!

    Poor Esmé didn’t live long but at least we have this wonderful painting of him.

    Liked by 1 person


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