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Pets in Art

Pets in Art

Dogs, as well as other furry, feathery and leathery friends like cats, rabbits, birds and rodents and horses, have been our best friends since history began. The subjects loved to pose with their dear dogs and cats, or the animals were included in the portraits to convey or symbolize something else. Whatever the reason, these pets are immortalized through these classic artworks.

"The Arnolfini Portrait" by Jan van Eyck1. “The Arnolfini Portrait” by Jan van Eyck

This classic 15th-century painting by the Flemish artist Jan van Eyck has been long subject to endless debates and interpretations. Yet nothing is completely known or confirmed about this artwork, and it still remains a mystery. There is so much perceived symbolism here in this beautiful artwork, which depicted Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his new wife.

In the picture, the dog which stands between the couple is a lap dog, most likely a Brussels Griffon breed or its ancestor. Many think that the dog symbolizes loyalty, or signifies the couple’s desire to have children. Others surmised that the dog was simply a gift to the newlyweds.

Katharine of Aragon's portrait by Lucas Horenbout2. Katharine of Aragon’s portrait by Lucas Horenbout

This 16th-century miniature painting of Henry VIII’s first wife shows herself and pet monkey. It was created by the Flemish artist Lucas Horenbout (d. 1544). The monkey’s breed is not certain, although a lot assume that it could be a marmoset.

A painting of Eos by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer3. A painting of Eos by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer

Some artworks feature only pets as a subject, and these include a portrait of Prince Albert’s favorite greyhound named Eos. It was painted by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer (1802-1873), who is chiefly known for his lion sculptures at London’s Trafalgar Square. However, he was also renowned as one of the foremost animal painters during his time.

"Signal, a Grey Arab, with a Groom in the Desert" by Dalby of York4. “Signal, a Grey Arab, with a Groom in the Desert” by Dalby of York

John Dalby aka Dalby of York (1810–1865) was chiefly known for his paintings that depicted animal sport and hunting scenes as well as horses.

5. Portrait of Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (presumably) by John de Critz the Elder

This portrait of of Henry Wriothesley (3rd Earl of Southampton) and his pet cat Trixie, is attributed to Flemish painter John de Critz (d. 1642). Wriothesley was among the many people imprisoned in the infamous Tower of London, who were saved by starvation by these kind-hearted felines. Trixie would climb up the tower and bring pieces of food to Wriothesley. She also kept him company until his release from the tower.

6. “Lady with an Ermine” by Leonardo da Vinci

Painted by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), this artwork features a woman named Cecilia Gallerani holding an ermine (a type of weasel). At that time, Gallerani was a mistress of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. The ermine, according to art interpreters, symbolized purity.

7. “Two Girls Dressing a Kitten by Candlelight” by Joseph Wright of Derby

During his time, Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797) was renowned for his “candlelit paintings,” which clearly showed his skill in the chiaroscuro effect (a painting technique which deals with the treatment of light and shade). The portrait of two girls playing with a kitty seems innocent enough, but a lot of art interpreters have picked up sexual connotations in the painting.

8. “A treat for her pet” by Guillaume Dubufe

This 19th-century masterpiece by French painter Guillaume Dubufe (1853-1909) was done with oil on canvas. It depicted a beautiful lady giving treats to her pet bird (most likely a white cockatoo).