Monday, July 12, 2010

Spaniels and Spur Leathers

A lovely painting by Landseer titled "The Cavalier's pets" The pets are obvious, and we know there's a Cavalier around because no one else has such wonderful plumes in their wide brim hats!

There are many wonderful breeds of dog, but few are as appealing to the historical fashionista as the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. They show up in all sorts of old paintings, and there's very little more fun than running across a Cavalier with his well dressed owner at a portrait gallery or museum!

I've had Cavaliers since I was little, the current incumbent is Dion, this fellow here:

seen waiting oh-so-patiently for a treat!

I've been babysitting his sister, Nina, while her humans are on vacation:

she settled in pretty quickly, and soon found the comfiest places in the house!

Obviously, Cavaliers make good lap dogs! They're pretty, not too big (around 16 - 18 lbs) and friendly, and were once very popular with royalty.

Their name is a nod to King Charles II, who loved them and kept them his whole life. When he was a young prince Charles was painted alongside his favorite spaniels. Dressed at the height of fashion for the 1640s, Charles wears in miniature styles popular with the Cavaliers, mounted soldiers of the time.

Here are a couple of fully grown Cavaliers,

they may not look much like horsemen, but everything they wear was originally designed to accommodate horseback riding. Those clover looking things on the front of their boots are one of my favorite historical fashion accessories, Quatrefoil spur leathers (try saying that five time fast!) These decorative pieces of leather covered and protected the ugly straps which held spurs on the well-dressed heel. Notice the height of those heels? Impressive, isn't it! Some men had heels so high they really could not walk without their walking sticks.

The middle of the seventeenth century may have been an odd time for men's fashion, but the women looked quite nice! Both sexes wore high waisted garments, which is rather more flattering in a dress than a short jacket, as pictured above.

This mistress of King Charles II looks especially lovely holding -you guessed it! - a petite Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. She is dressed in a style from the end of the seventeenth century when waists had migrated down again, though skirts were still full and soft like they were at the height of Cavalier (the men) fashion. A friend of mine describes that whole period of costume history in one word -- squishy!

While many of the paintings which feature Cavaliers (the dogs!) are from Charles II's lifetime, the breed stayed popular as a companion for the wealthy long after his reign ended.

This little girl likely dates from the 1710s, though she's dressed in the sort of "historical" look which only painter's subjects ever wear! Her dog is cute, though

And this German etching dates from the very beginning of the nineteenth century, with the women in high-waisted gowns and the man sporting wide lapels and collars on shirt, waistcoat and jacket

his hair is a variation on the popular "hedgehog" style, another favorite fashion term of mine!

This young miss is even later, from the Romantic period of the 1830s:

However, my favorite painting featuring a Cavalier, and the inspiration for today's post, is this one:

George Romney's Lady Hamilton as Nature.

I first encountered her at the Frick Museum in New York (my favorite museum! Very intimate and beautiful, but lines can get long on Fridays in the summer) and fell in love with the dog and its owner. Allegorical paintings like this were all the rage in the latter half of the 1700s, and I love the idea that nature herself would pick a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel to be her companion. I always knew Mother Nature had good taste, didn't you?


  1. great post! i was an art history major in college - this post took me back : )

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