Dogs in Dutch Art

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Dogs are everywhere in Dutch museums.  As I wandered through the art galleries of Amsterdam, I wondered why dogs appear in so many paintings, especially those dating from the Golden Age.  All though the 1600s, the Dutch Republic was pretty much on top of the world.  Merchants and seamen traded all over the world, bringing in boatloads of money.  A wealthy middle class rose up. There was still a market for religious and historical art, but above all this new wealthy class  wanted portraits and depictions of their everyday lives of luxury.  Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals and many other artists were happy to oblige. My guess is that man’s best friend was just part of the good life.

I came across a wonderful poem by David Graham:

The Dogs in Dutch Paintings

How shall I not love them, snoozing

right through the Annunciation?  They inhabit

the outskirts of every importance, sprawl

dead center in each oblivious household.

They’re digging at fleas or snapping at scraps,

dozing with noble abandon while a boy

bells their tails.  Often they present their rumps

in the foreground of some martyrdom.

What Christ could lean so unconcernedly

against a table leg, the feast above continuing?

Could the Virgin in her joy match this grace

as a hound sagely ponders an upturned turtle?

No scholar at his huge book will capture

my eye so well as the skinny haunches,

the frazzled tails and serene optimism

of the least of these mutts, curled

in the corners of the world’s dazzlement.

The poet’s website is at

I’m counting my discovery of this poet as one of the world’s dazzlements!

5 thoughts on “Dogs in Dutch Art

  1. David Graham

    Thanks for posting this! Googling for something else, I just happened upon it. Glad you liked my poem. I’ve loved Dutch art all my life, and now when we visit museums, my wife & I always point out the dogs in the paintings. . . .

    –David Graham

    1. Claudia Suzan Carley Post author

      I am honored, David! I love your poem. I just recently re-read it. I always watch for dogs too (and cats!) in Dutch paintings, I really felt that the dogs added to the impact of the paintings and I came upon your poem while looking to see if anyone else had the same thoughts. I’m also a big fan of St. Jerome who always appears with the lion he takes by removing a thorn from its paw. Thanks so much for your comment!

  2. Pingback: Happy International Cat Day! |

    1. Claudia Suzan Carley Post author

      Thanks, Helen! This was from my early blogging days and I’d have trouble now finding the artist. It was a detail of a much larger painting. Now I have a better system of keeping track. I did of course credit the author of the contemporary poem, who made a lovely comment years later.


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