The dog in art came into its own in the 18th century, with such artists as George Stubbs. It reached an apex of popularity in the 19th century with the reign of Queen Victoria. For centuries though the inclusion of a toy dog in portraiture frequently symbolised loyalty, devotion, trust and obedience and was usually but not always a feature in female portraiture. The inclusion of a Greyhound or similar large dog in male portraiture, often sitting affectionately at the sitters’ side, symbolised power, control and ownership. Thus the wife was loyal and faithful to her husband who in turn had power and control over all he owned and surveyed!
Because of their antiquity the toy breeds were usually Toy Spaniels, Italian Greyhounds and more latterly Pugs. The earliest depictions were on frescos and sculpture and the marble sculpture featured here lies at the feet of Louis II ‘the good’ de Bourbon, Duc de Bourbon (1337-1410) on his tomb in the Palace of the Popes in Avignon. Beside him the tomb of his wife, Anne d’Auvergne, Comtesse de Forest (1358-1417), daughter of Béraud II, Comte de Clermont en Auvergne, who has a similar but now headless toy dog at her feet.
The two little dogs represent loyalty and faithfulness on the part of Louis and his wife, had he been a King or a Pope (there are no Popes buried in the Palace of the Popes), then he would have had a lion at his feet, symbolic of power. This depiction of loyalty, faithfulness and also of belonging is further reinforced by the wide ornate collar with the attached lead the dog is wearing, so typical of the period.
The Palace of the Popes’ little dog is similar to one shown in the arms of a lady on the fresco, ‘The Triumph of Death’, in Camposanto di Pisa which was completed circa 1318 by Buonamico Buffalmacco.
Louis II was a devout Catholic, supporter of the church and loyal to the Pope. He was the son of Pierre I de Bourbon and Isabelle de Valois and on both his father’s and mother’s side descended from King Louis IX of France who in 1248 left Paris on the Seventh Crusade to recover Jerusalem from the Turks who had taken it in 1244. He died of the plague in Tunis in 1270 having gone to North Africa to fight the Muslims.
The Palace of the Popes was constructed in the early 14th century as a mighty symbol of the Church’s power in ecclesiastical and also worldly matters. The Catholic Church regards the seven Popes residing in Avignon from 1305-1378 as legitimate Popes. The Palace was looted during the French Revolution when the dog on Anne’s tomb was probably decapitated.