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Reigning Cats and Dogs: A History of Pets at Court Since the Renaissance

In 1434, Jan van Eyck painted his The Arnolfini Marriage and, in so doing, made art history. What van Eyck did, which no previous painter had ever saw fit to do (according to Kenneth Clark), was to include in his masterpiece a little pet dog. Van Eyck has a lot to answer for. By the time you're a few pages into Katharine MacDonogh's book, you'll realise that dogs and cats (and the occasional monkey) must be in virtually every subsequent work of art--especially if that work of art also features a representative of the royal family.

As MacDonogh tells it, these poor, neglected princely children would find succour away from their dysfunctional families with their beloved pugs, chins and corgis--and the pets reaped the rewards, getting their own beds, clothes, glittering collars and bizarre accessories. Why, one is tempted to ask, did Charles II's sister Henrietta-Anne think that her dog needed earrings? MacDonogh has marshalled a staggering array of anecdotes and paintings and the result is a beautifully rich and generously-illustrated body of evidence. It's an all- embracing survey, spanning six centuries and the entire Continent--and as such, rarely allows for particularly in-depth analysis.

Some will argue that the portraits record generic convention rather than genuine affection for animals; others might cavil that the royals only seem to be more besotted with their pets because they get painted more often than your average dog-owner. Jammed in amidst the jollity, there's a disturbing section on how Renaissance royals viewed their "dwarves" and black servants as quasi-animals, that cries out for some serious thought. But if you can get past the title--and someone somewhere is very proud of that one-- Reigning Cats and Dogs is an intriguing and diverting read for those precious minutes before the dogs need walking again. --Alan Stewart

Important places

Lyon (57)
Fontainebleau (16)


Bologna (42)
Rhône (59)
Seien-et-Marne (34)


China (2,041)
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