Is there anything surer than death? The causes and timings may be different but everybody inevitably dies. However, not everybody’s death accompanies mourning. In this panting completed by 19th-century British artist Briton Rivière, there is only a dead person with nobody grieving for him – only a dog is nearby. Why?
The Victorian age artist had an outstanding talent, so much so that his works were exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in London at the age of 17. He was great with mythological and historical paintings but also well-known for animal paintings. In particular, his painting of a dog with an expression like a human’s was highly popular. This painting he completed at the age of 48 features a man in Medieval-style armor lying in bed covered with a blue fabric. Flowers laid on top of his chest indicate that he passed away. A dog sitting in front of the bed looks at him with an expression of mourning. The dog is Bloodhound, which is a noble hunting dog often raised in European royal courts or monasteries. The title of the painting, Requiescat, is a Latin word meaning prayer for the repose of a dead person. The dog is the only one who mourns his owner’s death. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in the year it was completed and received much praise as the Victorians loved the theme of chivalry and loyal dogs. It was so popular that the painter made two copies of the painting in the following year.
Chivalry is a set of ideal behaviors established in Medieval Europe. Bravery, loyalty, honor, generosity, courtesy, and protecting the weak were the main virtues that needed to be upheld by knights. However, the Medieval feudal society was not that ideal. Knights who exclusively possessed armor and weapons often committed immoral and violent behaviors in contrast to chivalry. The knight in the painting must have been one of the cases as he has no family, friend, or neighbor grieving for him. Only his loyal dog keeps company as he leaves this world.