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Medieval dog
Codex Palatino 556, dated 1446 and attributed to Cremonese artist Bonifacio Bembo, whose patrons were the ducal family of Milan. Collection of Biblioteca Nazionale, Florence

In the Arthurian tale of Tristan & Iseult, the little dog is inseparable from the lovers after it laps up the remains of a love potion….

The Italian nobles of the late medieval period adored the tales of King Arthur. Their version of SCA fun was to host lavish tournaments that included sometimes lethal jousting contests. Everyone, including the horses, wore sumptuous costume. After the games, they ate feasts with dishes served up of just about any creature that could crawl, flap, swim or slither, from herons to swans to boars to eels. Even the food was gilded and silvered.

An illustration from an Arthurian manuscript reflects this fancy, with Arthurian characters dressed and coiffed, anachronistically, in the style of mid-fifteenth-century Northern Italy.

Cary-Yale Lovers
The Lovers, from the Cary-Yale tarocchi deck, mid-fifteenth-century Milan. Cary Collection of Playing Cards, Beinecke Library, Yale University.

The little dog under the table is one of many engaging details. The dog’s master, Tristan (far left) can be identified by the heraldic lion on his clothing. In the story, the dog laps up the remains of the love potion mistakenly drunk by Tristan and Iseult; the dog is then inseparable from the lovers.

The dog often figures in art of the period as a symbol of fidelity. In another image attributed to Bonifacio Bembo, a man and woman hold hands, the angel of love above them, and their best buddy at their feet. The image is not labeled, but as part of a tarot (tarocchi) deck, it can be titled “The Lovers.”

The Bones You Have Cast Down cover

A novel based on the true story of the Popess card of the tarot.

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“Enchanting & richly historical, heart-wrenching & intoxicating.” —Stuart R. Kaplan, author Pamela Colman Smith. 

“A storytelling treasure. The sights, smells, feel of Renaissance Italy seep from every pore of the story.” —Ron Andre, A Matter of Fancy

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