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 davidgraham.lifeyo.com.
I’m counting my discovery of this poet as one of the world’s dazzlements!
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. . . .
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!
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Interesting blog. Do you know which Dutch painter painted the dog you show?
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.