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Papillon: Model for the Great Masters
A great model captures the attention with a combination of unusual beauty and charm. It’s not surprising then that the papillon, a stylishly distinctive dog, has appeared in paintings from some of the great masters throughout history. Titian, Watteau, and Fragonard are just some of the great artists who have included papillons in some of their most famous works.
Of course, the subject of many paintings by the masters was royalty. The nobles would commission the artists for portraits of the family, often extending to the loyal canine companions of the kings and queens. The family portrait of Louis XIV of France, the famous Sun King, includes a spirited papillon, centrally located in the painting. Other royal families throughout Europe included their own papillons in their portraits.
Small, elegant, and delicate in form, the breed draws in the viewer’s eye. Yet what stand out the most, both literally and figuratively, are its ears. Papillon is French for butterfly, and the breed’s name stems from its large, fringed, erect ears that frame the head like the wings of a butterfly. However, not all papillons have these erect ears. Many also have drop ears, which are referred to as phalenes, meaning night moth. However, both ear types can appear in the same litter and they are both accepted and shown as the same breed in conformation shows.
The papillon is also referred to as the continental toy spaniel, since it is one of the oldest of the toy spaniel breeds. It is also sometimes called a dwarf spaniel, particularly when discussing the dogs that appeared in many of the paintings of the 1500s.
The papillon is a European breed, but though its name suggests a French origin, it was in Italy and Spain where the breed first became truly popular. It is thought that the Bologna region of Italy was responsible for developing the interest in the breed and then selling them on in trade to the French.
Like the delicate insect they are named after, papillons are small, lightweight dogs, usually only weighing 7-10 pounds. And adult dog stands just eight to ten inches tall. They are fine-boned and, as a result, they can be prone to injuries, which is why they aren’t necessarily recommended for homes with very young children who may accidentally hurt the dog. However, with a healthy lifestyle and diet, they often live for 12-15 years.
Their appearance can vary, not just in the ears. Whether they have the erect ears or the drop ears, their coloring should be white with patches of any color. Ideally, the non-white color should fully cover the ears and spread out from the ears to cover both eyes without interruption. However, the color should be broken up by a white blaze on the forehead and a white band around the nose.
The coat itself should be full, silky, fine and straight, with a frill on the chest and fringed ears. The hair on the face is short, though, and the papillon has no undercoat. The size, appearance, or even absence, of color on the body isn’t specifically regimented according to the breed standard.
No matter how lovely a model is, eventually a bad attitude will catch up with you. Fortunately, the papillon is a model in both looks and behavior. There’s a reason why this little breed has been a favorite for so long. The papillon is one of the most obedient of the toy dogs and is a happy, gentle animal. They are lively and like to play, but their small size means that they can fulfill their exercise needs indoors when necessary. However, a daily walk is recommended to keep them mentally and physically healthy. They are ideal for apartment living, but are also happy to explore outdoors.
Whether curled on the lap of an elegant beauty, posing for an artist, or running around in an open field, the papillon is a joyful spirit who brings pleasure to all who encounter him, just like his namesake.
- The papillon has had a number of names over the centuries, including Titian spaniel, squirrel dog, and in non-English countries, he is often still called the Epagneul Nain Continental.
- Legend has it that Marie Antoinette walked to the guillotine with a papillon. Her dog was spared and lived out its life in a house that is still called Papillon House.
- Despite their small size, many papillons work as service dogs. They alert people to the onset of seizures and can help those who are hearing impaired.
- Among the breed’s more recently famous owners are singer Christina Aguilera and Star Trek actor George Takei.