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The Amazing Art History of Pet Portraits- PART TWO- Europe, the medieval and the pre-renaissance
We have already covered the usage of pets in portraits, including cute cat portraits and dog portraits as well as horse portraits in the ancient world and feudal Japan and China during early art history. Moving onto the usage of pet portraits in western civilisation during the dark ages and medieval periods.
Circa 1520, Cologne Cathedral, pet dog jumps on the bed
The dark ages have a distinct absence of art, there were very few artistic portrayals of pets not many animals were depicted, added to this is the lack of survival of paintings (mainly wall murals) from that period, which is exacerbated by the general slowdown of cultural experimentation and progress during the dark ages.
Above- Dark Ages art the first page of The Venerable Bede, with hunting dogs and large cats, 695 AD
There are a few rare examples of animal drawings and illustrations which have survived from the dark ages, from the early middle ages (476 AD onwards) there is a noticeable uptrend of exampels of the depictions of animals but not pets in Art History, a notable example from Great Britain is the surviving text from The Ecclesiastical History of the English People from 695AD.
Moving onto the later medieval period in Europe, we see the flowering of paintings which depict hunting scenes of dogs and coincidentally show horses as well. Hunting scenes were common topics in medieval and Renaissance art, hunting in the medieval period was largely the preserve of the nobility and upper classes, and in the European code of chivalry, hunting became an integral part of court customs and etiquette.
Medieval Hunting Dogs
The drawing of a person together with a hunting dog, hawks or falcons would signal status, or was the sign of a noble person - and in many countries, only the nobility was allowed under law to hunt certain animals, or certain animals would be kept on reserves for the aristocracy or royal family and severe punishments could be inflicted if commoners were caught hunting. There are less paintings from the middle ages of cats, however as the flowering of the renaissance came in Italy, we see the first genuine pet portraits start to surface, and instead of two-dimensional renderings,w e see the influence of early theories of perspective.
Cat painting as a luteplayer, from the Court of Dresden, circa 1520
During the medieval period, the depiction of actual pets in portraits or paintings was very rare but not unheard of, whereas Asian cultures were arguably more evolved and using to domesticating and keeping animals at home, and indeed the keeping of pets may have been more common practice in Asian society than in Western civilisation, Asian artists were also arguably more sympathetic to utilising actual domesticated pets in portraits.
Giotto painting, notice the loving dog with docile sheep
The renaissance was preceded in art history by another period, imaginatively called the “pre-renaissance”! This pre-renaissance period sprouted in Italy in the late 1290’s with artists like Giotto, however tit wasn’t until the genius Piero della Francesca appeared in the early 1500’s that we see a step change in painting overall, as the master Piero invented the usage of perspective, this revolutionised Art History and helped give the paintings of pets a new “aliveness” and clarity that had never been seen before in the history of Art. This brought forth the renaissance in both Italy, Holland and eventually the rest of Europe.
Piero Della Francesca, dogs close up
Piero Della Francesca, analysis of perspective, no pets though!
In later medieval and pre-renaissance art dogs symbolize faith and loyalty. A dog, when included in an allegorical painting (allegorical broadly means double meaning, usually with an apparent figurative meaning and a deeper hidden or symbolic meaning). For instance, in the portrait of a married couple, a dog placed in a woman's lap or at her feet can represent marital fidelity. If the portrait is of a widow, a dog can represent her continuing faithfulness to the memory of her late husband.
An example of a dog representing marital fidelity is present in Jan van Eyck's portrait above. An oil painting on oak panel dated 1434 by the Dutch painter Jan van Eyck, it is a small full-length double portrait, which is believed to represent the Italian merchant Arnolfini and his wife, depicted in their home in the city of Bruges The picture portrays a wedding scene, where the people invited to witness the ceremony can be seen in the convex mirror at the back, the mirror symbolizing the eye of God. The little dog symbolizes in the Middle Ages iconography the virtue of faithfulness. Unlike the couple, the dog looks out to meet the gaze of the viewer. During the Middle Ages, many images of dogs were carved into tombstones to represent the deceased's feudal loyalty or marital fidelity.
The long answer to this question would concern such factors as lighting, hues and depth high-brow renaissance artifices such as chiaroscuro, contrapposto & sfumato.
The short answer is "YES" or "DEFINITELY" !!!
Take a look at some of our examples below, to see what you think
If you can see the beauty in Oils, you are not alone, the colours, lighting, depth and beauty are staggering, a drawing is always going to be more flat and lack depth and thereby convey less realism. Our brains see in colour and we even dream in colour (not black and white), so to really capture the heart and soul of your favourite pet you need to commission it in oils.
But if you don't have the budget then you can always chose a dog drawing instead.
It's entirely your choice, but oil paintings are better , HINT, HINT!
Checkout this nice little tryptych of three dogs in charcoals, strictly speaking it is not a three panel tryptych, but we like to think of ourselves as renaissance masters like Giotto!!
Checkout our other blog for the original photos, the middle one is was really tricky, but we got him in!
If you want a composition like this for your dog portraits, just contact us at the website or on facebook.
We don't get asked very often to do abstract pet portraits or specially themed types of paintings as we specialise in pet portraits or horse drawings and dog drawings and occasionally the odd cat portrait or other types of painting for animals.
However here is one we did recently which the customer loved, check it out and see if you like tit, the customer asked for "splat" style...
And here is the photo we worked from
If there is one secret to a truly great pet portrait, it is getting the eyes right, why is this so?
The answer is all down to our unique relationship with animals and the way human beings function, an oil painting is a visual feast for the viewer, there are so many features to appreciate, ranging from the sublime details of colour and lighting and shading, together with less obvious such as depth, background and saturation.
But the real secret is that an oil painting should evoke our innermost feelings and emotions, and that is what distinguishes it from the average photograph or polaroid image, the true beauty of a great oil painting is in capturing the heart and essence of the pet, it's innate sense of calm and regality, the true hallmarks of great pet portrait.
The eyes are normally the first feature which we notice, they convey emotional state, character and the intrinsic personality, open of the "tricks of the trade" our artist utilise, is to give the iris more colour and depth than might be true in reality, the effect is really subtle to be as almost unnoticeable, the eyes may also be made slightly larger than is the case in reality, again the change is almost imperceptible, check out this drawing below and compare it to the photo, can you see the left eye has actually been pointed forward so you can gaze into it's sweet eyes? on the photo you could not see the eye properly, if this had been drawn into the picture then the viewer would have had less connection with their pet, any emotional distancing is not good, and so the artist reconfigured the eye whilst still keeping the naturalistic expression of the dog in pose.
Now here is the drawing below
Can you see the eyes of this dog, what does it tell you?
We prefer really good photos if we can get them, however if you want it as a secret gift then maybe it is tricky for you to get great photos
So here is an example of where we had to work from poor photos. See what you think of the pet portrait, actually it is not one of our best examples, but we are still proud of what we achieved based upon the photos. However, we want to be really honest with you.....the best photos will result in the best results for you.
Actually this was nice photo!
This wasn't too bad either
But this was the photo that was really tricky
So we asked for another one...
and that is him in the middle, so that is all we had to go with....
overall the customer is very happy and that is all that matters :)
If you're an artist yourself, you won't need to read this as you will probably already know it all!!
This little bit of information is to give first-time art buyers a good understanding of how to take care of the original oil paintings they have purchased and chosen to live with. Believe it or not, most non-artists are unaware that art needs special care and cannot be treated as a piece of furniture might be treated! Please note the oil paint can take upto 6 months to fully dry out after painting.
Whenever someone buys one of my paintings at portrait-pets, I try to explain to them the basics of caring for the work, and offer to be available any time they have a question or need assistance with its preservation. After all, I care very much about the well-being of my work. My paintings remain as personal and dear to me when they are purchased as they were the day I created them. Art collectors should always keep in mind that this is how artists feel about their work, and that art is more than just a commodity. It is a piece of the artist's soul.
Here are just a few basic rules:
(For those of you who already know these things, Yippee! This is not for you. These instructions will sound very simplistic, nevertheless I have met many people who actually don't know these things.)
1. Never lean the front or back surface of a stretched canvas on a pointed or sharp object, no matter how small. This will leave a dent that will disfigure your work. If you must lean it against something, lean it on the wood of its stretcher bars so that nothing presses against the canvas.
2. Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight will fade the colors in your oil painting. Please be aware of this when choosing a location for your work.
3. You might want to dust your painting regularly, so that a thick layer of dust does not build up which will dry out the paint and possibly result in cracking and peeling. Do not spray anything (like pledge!) on the work. Dust with a soft, dry cloth. If the surface of your painting looks dry and dull, you may want to have it varnished. Most artists will offer to varnish the work, if they haven't done so already, at a new owner's request and free of charge. Varnish is a protective surface which will not only enhance the image, but will keep the surface intact and safe from cracking (except under extreme circumstances, of course).
4. If you must transport the work, lay a flat piece of cardboard, mat board or similar firm material over the front and back surfaces, and then wrap it in bubble wrap or styrofoam wrap. Try not to keep it wrapped up for too long as to avoid moisture buildup which might cause damage to the work.
5. Never expose your painting to extreme heat, extreme cold, or to extreme humidity. (Yes - this means a flood. Yes - this means a fire. Yes - this means snow. This could also mean an attic in the summer or a damp basement).
6. If something bad happens to the work (i.e. it crashes down on someone's head and gets a big gash in it), bring it to a professional conservator who can fix it properly. Don't do it yourself!
7. If you ever need or want to get rid of the work for any reason, always contact us, who should be informed of the work's new whereabouts so he or she can update the work's provenance records.
Just a short blog post on another super dog drawing, where the customer was so delighted they wrote us a review
"Thank you so much for this, we are all so impressed and super blown away by this drawing of Kaiya. It is AMAZING. The artist has captured her intelligence and beauty."
And we would wholeheartedly agree! checkout the dog drawing below and actual photo fo comparison
And here is the actual photo
Finally, here is one of Kaiya, chillin' out with her new dog portrait, it's a dog's life!
Yes we do sometimes, mostly we are too busy, but here is one of my own, he is a very handsome pooch!
and here s the photo
We create gorgeous, lovable pet portraits for your favourite pooch, horse or cat, we can capture the heart and soul of your wonderful animal, we hand paint or draw your pet from a special photograph that you send us, you can rely upon us to create a superb and memorable portrait of your lovable pet that you can cherish for years to come.
We can also create an oil painting of your dog or cat as a Five Star General, as a Swashbuckling Pirate or any special costume for that added touch of humour!! We are equally happy working in oils or pencil as we have years of experience in creating unique forms of art.
We are fast, reliable and responsive and we have excellent five star reviews from all of our customers. We also offer a 100% money-back guarantee if for any reason you are unhappy, so you can purchase without risk, although we have never had to make a refund!!
Our Artists are Passionate about what they do, and this passion is transferred to canvas, we take great pride in our work and fulfilling the happiness of pet owners, we are committed to capturing the quintessence of your beloved pet, we are a working collective of three artists Kittidet Pannasri (oil paintings and pencil portraits), Emily Kwok(oil paintings and pencil portraits) and Jeremy Thomas (pencil portraits and website) with over 45 years of experience of Fine Art and Portraits.
We love our work and we love animals, we are all pet owners ourselves and so we understand what makes them special and unique.