When I visited the British National Gallery a few years ago, one portrait really caught my attention. It was Don Justino de Neve by Bartolome Esteban Murillo. What made the portrait stand out was the fat little dog with the red bow painted in the corner. In a room full of formality, the trappings of wealth and power, this little dog staring adoringly at his master added a level of humanity to the sitter.
The dog also provided me with a connection to the gentleman, and to all the other people hanging around him who’d been painted with their pets. I know there are artistic symbols attached to dogs, but there is also love and affection that even the passing of a few centuries cannot obscure. It is a powerful reminder that those people in the portraits were real once and, despite the many years between their time and ours, they were not so different from us.