The liveliest and most attractive animals serving as footrests on medieval tombs are probably dogs. They may be seen peeping out from under ladies’ skirts, looking up at their master or mistress, or barking for attention. As an emblem of fidelity, dogs were evidently considered an appropriate symbol for the medieval tomb monuments of married women. The meaning of this motif is unclear, but one might wonder whether these dogs represented the deceased’s own pets. This idea is not as far-fetched as one might think, for personalized pet dogs do occur on medieval monuments, in particular beneath the feet of female effigies. This essay examines the lost origins of this popular motif and how its meaning may have changed over time.
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.
Details of the animals represented in art in northern Spain during the Middle Ages conveyed significant ideas in much the same way as attributes of saints and depictions of clothing. An examination of sculpted canines in Castilla y León reveals not only that these apparently portraitlike images represented the recognizable dog breeds that originated in Spain but also that the carvers expressed notions of the stature and rank of the persons associated with these dogs: small companion dogs accompanied the ruling elite; canine guardians replaced lions in supporting monumental sarcophagi; coursing or hunting hounds indicated the special role played by bishops who served in the stead of absent monarchs during times of need. Making use of detailed photographs of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century sculptures and modern photos of descendants of ancient Spanish breeds and the historical context for these painted sculptures, this essay deciphers the lexicon of a sophisticated language of images in gothic Castilla y León.
This essay seeks to explain the role of dogs in Japan’s medieval period (twelfth–fifteenth centuries) through an examination of contemporary written records and images in illustrated handscrolls. In the late twelfth century, when Japan’s ruling military elite reshaped the politics of the country, they also reconfigured the role of dogs to suit their needs and interests. Dogs in texts and paintings sponsored by the military elite became associated with fighting and blood sports, such as inu-ō-mono, where dogs were confined within an enclosure surrounded by a bamboo fence, pursued by men on horseback, and killed with arrows, activities which also served as tactical and weapon training for the warriors. But dogs also remained part of the medieval cosmology of the satoyama (farm village) landscape, which appears both in the writings of low-ranking aristocrats and Buddhist priests and in illustrated handscrolls they commissioned. The satoyama included both the sato (human settlement) and the yama (surrounding hills). While animals that lived in the foothills—mainly foxes, badgers, and monkeys—populate the folk literature of Japan and frequently appear as local gods (kami), dogs lived in the human settlements and are found in illustrations of commoner settings, temple environs, and scenes associated with illness and death. This essay examines the relationship between the context in which dogs appear in medieval handscrolls and the social status of their patrons.