Symbolismof Dogs in Art Dogsare some of the most commonly used animal subjects in art throughout history (Barnes).According to author Sara Barnes, dogs are so popular that “they’ve madeappearances with members of the aristocracy, self-portraits with famouscreatives, and been immortalized as balloons…” (Barnes). Being symbols of love, loyalty, protection,and family, it is no wonder that dogs have and still are common in the arts. Thus,it was only natural to include dogs in Northern Renaissance paintings since theartists of the Northern Renaissance were highly concerned about extreme detailand symbolism. This symbolism can be seen in the painting The Arnolfini Portraitby the Netherlandish artist Jan van Eyck.
In this painting, we can see a dog between the bride and groom. This couldbe symbolic of the couple’s love and loyalty for each other. Also, it could representthe bride and groom’s desire for a family and thus a child and for said childto be protected by his canine companion. In addition, the dog could representthe wealth of the couple since such smaller breeds of dogs were common amongthe upper class during the times of the Renaissance.
This would make sensesince the painting is believed to be of an aristocratic named Giovanni diNicolao Arnolfini, an Italian merchant, and his wife. But the significance ofthe dog doesn’t end with just its symbolism. We can see in this artwork the NorthernRenaissance characteristics of pain-staking detail and implied texture as well.For instance, the fur of the dog looks soft and well kept. Even though you cansee each strand of hair, this fur has no brush strokes due to the oil-basedpaint. The viewer gets the feeling that if one were to pet this dog it would beincredibly soft, warm, and even a quite fluffy.
Furthermore, the eyes of the dogare photo realistic with glimmer and shine and are directed at the viewer. Thisdirection of the dog’s gaze gives the feeling of a friendly dog you meet that desperatelywants to be petted and loved. Because of this,the dog seems to be friendlier and more inviting than the couple themselves.
Simply put, it seems humans throughouthistory have always been fond of dogs and had the desire to express this love.