|Photograph: David Wilson|
These dogs live in the Zwinger porcelain museum in Dresden, where I saw them three years ago. They are not Dresden china, however, but Japanese, from the late seventeenth century. August the Strong, Elector of Saxony and later King of Poland, acquired them in the early eighteenth century. They were catalogued as 'two seated brightly-coloured small dogs with red collars and bells.' Apparently Japanese ladies used to like keeping these little spotted dogs and one can see them on ukiyo-e woodblock prints.
Actually, the Zwinger is full of objects I'd love to own; exquisite Chinese and Japanese porcelain, equally exquisite Meissen porcelain - but I adore the amused and affectionate way these little dogs have been observed and made. I have seen my own dogs lift their noses in exactly that way, many a time, sniffing some delicious smell coming from the kitchen, and perhaps, since they are pet dogs, their kimonoed mistress, sitting on the tatami matting, will pick a morsel from the low table, bend down and offer it to them, at the end of her chopsticks - and then - following canine blandishments, another. I think, in fact, that it is beef, perhaps sukiyaki - I can almost smell it myself!
I would put them on the mantelpiece, I think, and when my grandsons came to stay they would have to be put away in the glass-fronted cupboard to be safe from the toddling, grabbing twins; but they'd get lifted up to see the dogs, and would exclaim with delight. But there's the rub. They're far too valuable, and the insurance would be impossible. I have the photograph, though, and can enjoy seeing them whenever I like, without fear of theft or breakages.
Thank you, Leslie! This is the first in an occasional series in which History Girls are going to be encouraged to let their material lusts run riot. The sky is the limit on items we'd like to own.