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The Amazing Art History of Pet Portraits- PART TWO- Europe, the medieval and the pre-renaissance

The Amazing Art History of Pet Portraits- PART TWO- Europe, the medieval and the pre-renaissance


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.



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Another super happy customer :)

Another super happy customer :)

We are glad to have an excellent review from another delighted customer

Checkout the review  "Apologies for the delay - just wanted to say how pleased I am with the portrait. It's amazing. Am taking it tomorrow to get it framed - am slightly nervous about finding the right frame to do it justice!"

We then helped Kerry get the right frame for her picture and we are just as delighted as her, it is a really cute dog. We had to adapt the lighting a bit and also the bring out the natural fur colour a bit more, but otherwise we think we really captured the heart and soul fo this lovely dog in a fine dog oil painting.

dog oil painting

dog oil painting

Our fine artists really enjoy it when a customer truly appreciates fine art.

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Choose Your Best Pet Portraits In UK

Choose Your Best Pet Portraits In UK

Can you imagine how charming and wonderful a portrait of your pet would be? Indeed, it'd be considered a special present specifically to the pet lover. Generally, we capture the image of our pets like cats, dogs and horses which makes an excellent picture gift for that special someone. 

Because of the introduction of technology, you can now procure the services of a skilled fine artist who focuses on pet portraits. So now you also enter into an agreement regarding your ideal pet portrait without having to visit a famous artist or art gallery/store if, you live inside a large city like London, you might find plenty of galleries available, but there still be a shortage of fine artists who are willing to paint your pet at an acceptable cost and you still have the costs and time for travelling to meet the gallery or artist. One advantage of the internet is just to look online, as you are able to check the quality of the dog portrait pictures. Thus, working with an artist online is easier and quicker.

However, there are some features of finding an artist through the Internet that you will want to watch out for. Are they a member of an association or guild that promises quality and customer service? (We are members of the Fine Artists Guild) Also if you elect to get a fine artist to paint your pet portraits through an online arrangement, you should send your furry friend's image to them by email.  

In getting its picture for one or more pet portraits you need to be innovative and patient. Do not bother, because it is a waste of time to sit your dog still in front of the artist whilst he/she paints for 7 need a photo! The reason is that pets tend to be more comfortable in your house and they are not that good at sitting still when you want them to! You may even be better waiting until he gets tired. Then, that is clearly a great time for you while he's slumbering or relaxing to take some pictures, however not with his eyes closed, as the eyes are the window to the soul.

It's also good advice to turn off the flash since the majority of creatures are vulnerable with it and it may also may discourage them from posing for a second photo!. Some photographers use an artificial light to improve the individual subject although not us at pet portraits. Natural light remains the best selection for us, and it is useful to obtain a superior look and quality for your painting or drawing. Thus, to prevent a harsh midday sunshine look, we would recommend you photographing in the earlier morning or late afternoon. The concept of colours should also be noticed in the selection of the background. Do not forget that a light coloured pet is better aimed using a darker background as well as the dark - coloured one is excellent together with a lighter background.

Send or add the favourite image towards the chosen artist's website. He will quickly work with your pet photographs and get to work!

You will be thrilled when you receive your ideal pet portrait in the post.

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Select A Best Pet Portrait Artist - Portrait Pets

Select A Best Pet Portrait Artist - Portrait Pets

There are numerous artists and painters available plying their industry on the web, providing a large range of pet portraits in a range of water colours, pastels, oil painting or charcoal and pencil. The most critical and very first choice you should make is to look for a dog portrait artist whose design you like, not just good colours and shading, but has the artist captured the heart and soul of your dog? Are there good reviews from recent customers and do you look the style of the portraits?

Most people recognise instinctively who is able to reproduce the very best similarity of the dog but - which may be the second-most crucial stage - however many designers perform from pictures that are provided by the owner, we are no different, therefore ensure that you've quality pictures of your dog to deliver. Your favourite snap of Fido mightn't be ideal for your selected artist to operate from. It might not do your beloved dog justice, if you send us a low quality photo, your chosen artist really wants to enhance within their work. Consider acquiring some new ones should you not have really a great image. you can be usually advised by your selected artist.

As a common principle, try to get 3 or 4 pictures which are true-to your dog's natural image. Try a really a warm morning with a bit of sunshine to avoid the images obtained having  dim shadows. Ultimately, consider taking your pictures together with your back to the sunlight. Try to get your dog interested so it is looking slightly away from the camera the dog's eyes are crucial to capturing the heart and soul of the dog and we ideally need both eyes visible. 

At this time you'll also wish to begin taking into consideration the dimension of one's portrait and undoubtedly this really is where price truly comes in. Other elements have to be resolved here also, like if you like several Portrait pets within one picture, ie multiple pets in one painting or drawing, would you like a dog in uniform or natural?

Getting dimensions right first, so that you can appreciate your dog picture for years to come and cherish contemplating your beautiful dog, so you have to select a dimension that best shows your dog. Ultimately you don't want the face to dominate of just one dog, if you are having multiple dogs painted, so it might looked squashes if you choose a smaller size to convey the personalities of several dogs.

The back ground can be selected by us, grey and blue are great for background on oil paintings, so background is normally not an individual selection. 

Mounting and framing is one that is difficult and we always leave that choice to the customer. As a general rule oil paintings should not have a glass or reflective covering as this will prevent the picture being viewed in all it;s glory and wonderful detail. Also an unskilled framer can sometimes chip the paint when framing if using glass.  Your picture framer and our best advice would be to obtain a price from your own selected picture framer. 

Our best advice to anybody considering buying a dog portrait  would be to do your research first but always choose the artist whose style you like best. Although commissioning art can be likened to any other purchase, in the case of art it is a very personal choice based on how you feel about the quality of the paintings, so if there is only a small price difference between one artist and another you should always choose the one you feel most comfortable with.

We always do everything we can to ensure you receive the ideal pet picture and we have never received anything but five star reviews from all our customers!

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The amazing art history of Pet Portraits

The amazing art history of Pet Portraits


If you thought that framing your pampered pooch for posterity was a new-fangled thing, take a look at ancient history and you'll get a pleasant surprise, from Cavemen to Cezanne from the Greeks to Goya, they have all featured animals in art, pet portraits are nothing new, just a continuing celebration of our close connection with animals.

Our art history of pet portraits starts way back, over 19,000 years ago with the famous cave paintings of Lascaux in southern France, you can see this beautiful horse rendered perfectly on the cave walls by Palaeolithic man below. There are over 600 paintings there and nearly all of them feature animals, ranging from bison to bears. The pigments used included red, yellow, and black colours from a complex multiplicity of mineral pigments, such as iron oxide, as well as manganese-containing pigments. It is not suggested by us that the were domesticated animals or pets, but they were the first animals painted by humans.

horse portrait

Marching onwards in terms of years, to 3500BCE, we move to the first human civilization of Babylonia, part of the Sumerian culture, there we find great depictions in art of both domesticated animals and we also find arguably our very first pet portraits alongside farm animals like goats and horses

 pet portraits

Domesticated goats from the Royal Tombs of Ur

Our Journey then moves to Ancient Egypt, where we know for certain that cats were kept as pets by the Egyptian royalty and aristocracy.

cat portrait


Cats in ancient Egypt occupied a special place, as the cat was central to their religion and was considered to be sacred. Many animals in Egypt were linked to gods and goddesses, but only the cat was considered to be semi-divine in its own right. As a demi-god, a cat could not be owned by a mere human. Only the divine pharaoh had that honour. As a result, all cats were in theory under the protection of the pharaoh and hurting a cat was treasonous, similar to swans on the River Thames and the Queen of England in modern day times. The depiction of feline pets in Ancient Egypt is beautiful and flowing, showing great affection for cats as pets.

cat portraits

The Greek culture which followed the decline of the Egyptian civilisation and may have borrowed many concepts from it, has a special place in western civilisation as the founders of the first democracy alongside great discoveries in mathematics, philosophy and art.

pet portraits

The Greeks displayed a great fondness for animals and pets, we can see art in the form of sculptures, frescoes, mosaics and pottery, all of it depicting pets, the dog was the most beloved pet of the Ancient Greeks and is seen in thousands of works of art,

If you’re a cat-lover, you might have been lonely in ancient Greece. There isn’t much talk of cats in the records that survive. This means that the Greeks probably were not that aware of cats.  Since cats were domesticated in Egypt, they had probably never been seen in Greece until after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt.  Egypt did not have much contact with Greece and western culture before then. Birds were also very common pets. Even large birds, such as heron and peacocks, were often kept inside the home as pets. There are many engravings that have survived to modern times that show Greeks in the company of large birds.

greek dog

Even though we might find them creepy, some Greeks kept snakes as pets.  Some of these snakes were kept because they killed rats and mice. But apparently, some were treated as regular pets. There are stories from ancient Greece about a man whose pet snake followed him around like a dog. Some Greeks apparently let their pet snakes sleep in the bed with their children!

Pets included, dogs, cats, monkeys and even rats, although dogs are decpited as pets the most often.

A greyhound reportedly saved Alexander the Great from a charging elephant. The name greyhound is believed to derived from the word Grauis, meaning Grecian. The first accurate description of a grey hound is attributed to Ovid (63 B.C. to A.D. 17).

Roman Pets

The tradition of dogs as affectionate pets continued into the ancient Roman empire, one fascinating fact is that the Romans were the first culture to feed their dogs rather than expect them to catch meals themselves. Thus we see the first manifestations of the dog being seen as “man’s best friend” in the Roman Empire.

roman dog

After the conquest of Britain, the Romans began importing the ancestors of the Irish Wolfhound. Some of these were pitted against wolves or Molossi on the sands of the arena; others were allowed to serve their intended function as chasers of wolves and deer. Wolf-hunting on horseback, with the aid of large hounds, was a popular sport on many a frontier.

roman greyhound

There are two pieces of cat evidence regarding the Romans. First: A mosaic from the House of the Faun in Pompeii, showing a cat with a bird in it’s mouth . It is a spotted gray tabby cat. Another one is a piece from the island of Britannia, it is actually not a piece of art, just evidence from construction, there are some cat footprints and a pebble that impacted and stuck to the surface. The cat was walking across the sticky surface and someone threw a stone at it to get it off!

Fish were also kept by Romans, who must often have made actual pets of them. The first person to build a piscina/aquarium was a rich former Consul who upon the death of his fish went into mourning well beyond what was considered appropriate for a child or wife. Beginning in the second century, piscinae began to appear among the wealthy homes and later became a regular feature in Roman houses.

In western civilisation the next period where we truly appreciate the beauty of art and pets, is a long time coming as the dark ages lasted until the 10th century. So we can switch to other cultures to see how they depicted pets.



Ancient China

In ancient China we see the dog as both a domesticated and hunting animal/pet

tibetan mastiff

Tibetan mastiff depicted from the Tang dynasty

There is fairly strong evidence that dogs were first domesticated in China, researchers from China and Sweden postulate that humans may have domesticated dogs from wolves as recently as 15,000 years ago. They found that, while most dogs share a common gene pool, genetic diversity is highest in East Asia, suggesting dogs have been domesticated there the longest.

Even more fascinating was the Forbidden City, home to the emperors of China during the final two imperial dynasties, the Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty. Built in 1406 to 1420 AD, the complex consists of 980 buildings and covers an incredible 720,000 metres.  As its name suggests, the complex was off-limits to the public and could only be accessed by the emperor, his immediate family, and thousands of female concubines and castrated male servants known as eunuchs.


The emperors and empresses of China’s Forbidden City lived a lavish and opulent lifestyle, but they weren’t the only ones- royal dogs also received the royal treatment, living a cushy and pampered lifestyle. - They reportedly lived in pavilions with marble floors, slept on silk cushions and were waited on by dedicated servant eunuchs who worked for the Dog Raising Office.

 These eunuchs were specifically trained to care for the royal dogs and waited on their every need, each dog was specially dressed in in luxurious outfits that were specially commissioned and tailored to each dog’s size and breed. The pet’s name was carefully recorded on the inner  lining.


An ornate silk costume worn by one of the Emperor's dogs inside the Forbidden city.


Ancient Japan- masters of cat portraits

In Japanese art we see some sublime and surprising depictiosn of pets in artistic form, Take a look at this famous cats having fun from the Edo period:-

Woodblock print of cats making merry

In temples, mouser cats kept mice from eating Buddhist scrolls. They also served a role in protecting crops and thereby safeguarding religion.

In the Edo period (1603 – 1868), Japan stopped making war and relaxed somewhat, it’s artistic culture flourished in this era of relative stability, and everyday people had the time and means for leisure, high culture was not just the pre-occupation of the ruling classes. They didn't have the internet, but they did have kabuki theatre, romantic literature, and ukiyo-e or woodblock prints produced cheaply on a mass scale, ordinary people could enjoy the best art at affordable prices in their own homes, unlike western societies, where oil paintings were the preserve of only the rich.

Woodblock and Hokusai prints are now precious works of art displayed in museums. But ukiyo-e, though extremely sophisticated, was originally a mass media and popular art form. Creating them involved carving a piece of wood into an image, painting the carving, and stamping it, perhaps thousands of times- the first mass produced art, an incredible innovation for it’s time.

During the Edo period a merchant class developed and they now had new found wealth to spend on non-essentials and luxury goods like artwork. But there were a lot of woodblock prints for sale, all competing for merchant cash, so to attract buyers, the subjects of woodblock prints became everything fashionable and popular. This included lots of pet cats!

The most important and notable woddblock cat artist was Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861). He was a master of the violent and frightening, you might say his humanistic portrayals of cats in human attire were postively creepy, Kuniyoshi was obsessed with cats! His art studio was full of pussycats and visitors would often find him working with a kitty cuddled up in his kimono.

He was able to push the boundaries and take the mickey out of lots of kabuki actors were subject to these parodies as well as historically important figures, with these clever and witty cat portraits.

Less famous but more ancient than the other examples we have given is the recently discovered cave paintings on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. Hand painted in an Indonesian cave it dates to at least 39,900 years ago, making it among the oldest art in the world, archaeologists, the discovery on the island of Sulawesi, vastly expands the geography of the first cave artists, who were long thought to have appeared in prehistoric Europe around that time. 

Reported in the journal Nature, the cave art includes stencils of hands and a painting of a babirusa, or "pig-deer," which may be the world's oldest figurative art ever discovered. The finds from the Maros cave sites on Sulawesi raise the possibility that such art predates the exodus of modern humans from Africa 60,000 or more years ago. Adding more mysteries to the story of human evolution.

Is this is the oldest piece of art in the whole world??? One thing is for certain, animal art is definitely full of history.

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Is it worth paying more for "Oils"? when I am commissioning a pet portrait?

Is it worth paying more for "Oils"? when I am commissioning a pet portrait?

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

dog oil painting

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.

dog drawingdog drawing


It's entirely your choice, but oil paintings are better , HINT, HINT!

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Three dogs are better than one!

Three dogs are better than one!

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!!

dog drawing

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.

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Do you do abstract pet portraits?

Do you do abstract pet portraits?

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

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The eyes are the "windows" to the soul, secrets of great pet portraits

The eyes are the "windows" to the soul, secrets of great pet portraits

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.


dog drawing

Now here is the drawing below


dog painting

Can you see the eyes of this dog, what does it tell you?

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Can you work with bad photos on a pet portrait or dog portrait?

Can you work with bad photos on a pet portrait or dog portrait?

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.

dog portrait

Dog drawing

Actually this was nice photo!

Dog portrait

This wasn't too bad either


But this was the photo that was really tricky


dog painting


So we asked for another one...

dog drawing

and that is him in the middle, so that is all we had to go with....

dog drawing

overall the customer is very happy and that is all that matters :)

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