What do we really value about our dogs? Blind adoration is the most important thing, if we dog lovers are honest. Sure, we’d like to see obedience, intelligence, cute tricks, and barking only when fire breaks out or someone is actually breaking into the house. But that look of pure unconditional love trumps everything else. I imagine that even rich merchants in the Dutch Golden Age had their moments of doubt and insecurity, moments when they needed that adoring upward gaze.
As I wandered the art galleries of Amsterdam, I snapped photos of dogs. They were everywhere, in the Rijksmuseum and in the Amsterdam Museum (which is really the history museum, but the word “history” was recently removed, apparently because it was thought to scare some people away).
Somehow, the dogs featured in paintings serve to make the people depicted seem more real, more like us.
Each animal is an individual character, as lovingly painted as any man, woman or child.
Each long-ago dog had a name, a favorite place to sleep, a way of looking happy or sad.
We might have trouble imagining the lives of humans from past centuries, but we have no trouble recognizing these dogs. And that adoring upward look still speaks to us, centuries after dog and master are gone. For me, the loving relationship between people and their pets is a kind of window into the past.
Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!