Before the dog took his position beside the ruler in the Renaissance portrait, he found himself depicted below the king’s feet in the tomb sculpture of the Middle Ages. The presence of a small breed beneath the feet of the queen was commonly associated with hearth and home, a symbol of domestic bliss. However, this formula broke down when the same dog curled up beneath the king’s feet instead of the manly hunting dog that should have, according to this logic, been found there. Indeed, dogs in medieval royal tombs seem to warm the feet (and hearts) of their masters, a role they fulfilled in life and art.
This essay examines dogs on the tomb monuments in Saint-Denis for further signs of the “anatomy of fidelity” in the canine domain. Do the dogs beneath queens behave differently than those beneath kings? Do royal offspring warrant a different breed of dog? Does the gender of the dog matter? How do the dogs in Westminster behave? Do the dogs beneath royal effigies distinguish themselves from other aristocratic tombs that feature canines? When the Valois dukes chose lions instead of dogs, was the choice based purely on animal symbolism?
The royal tombs at Saint-Denis have been studied from a political, ecclesiastical, and historical perspective. However, the royal dogs slumber beneath the feet of kings and queens. Classification of these canines increases knowledge of the tombs they enliven with their presence and the rulers they obeyed.