It is well-known that Margaret Rope liked to use family & friends as models for the figures in her works, but it is less well-known that the Rope family dog crops up in her windows too. This golden retriever, whose name unfortunately we do not know, appears a couple of times.
The family dog can easily be identified, through its appearance in Marga’s Christmas card design of 1915. In it are seen the six Rope children, grown-up and scattered across Europe, three of them involved on WW1’s front-lines. However, the central figures in it are their mother, Agnes, and the family dog – reassuring icons of home & hearth. (Marga’s father had died more than a decade earlier).
This same dog (one supposes) also figures in a photo of Marga’s sister, Irene, who wears her WRENs uniform in it (which dates the time of it to the late 1910s or early 20s). Irene, who later became a well-known botanist, was a huge dog-lover – the fact even features in her obituaries!
The golden retriever figures in two windows of Marga’s in particular: the Young David window and the St Ambrose window.
The dog in the David window might almost be a copy of the picture of the dog in the Christmas card.
The barking dog in the Ambrose window (in Shrewsbury Cathedral) might be a sly private joke. The window is itself a tangential reference to the then dean of the cathedral, Father Ambrose Moriarty, who was also an important family friend of the Ropes. Did the dog always bark when Fr Moriarty came to call? It’s a thought….!
It’s also worth noting that a golden retriever was a relatively unusual dog at the beginning of the twentieth century. According to the Kennel Club Research Library (many thanks to them for the information!), the breed had only been introduced to Britain in the 1860s, only twenty years before Marga was born.
The fauna of everyday life, especially birds, as we’ve noted in other posts, was very important to Margaret and Irene. Their attachment to animals went back to holidays spent at her paternal grandfather’s farm in Suffolk, as well as to the time spent with her doctor father on his visits to his rural patients.
The use of incidental birds & animals is also common to ‘medievalist’ artists, of which Marga was one (without ever being obvious about it…). Medieval artists used animals to help fix their art into real life, e.g. a house-cat may well curl up at the foot of a saint, etc.
The other dog to feature twice in Marga’s windows is a greyhound. It appears in her Soldier Window and her Prodigal Son Window. (Her cousin Tor also featured a very similar-looking dog in her St Hubert piece). We don’t know the significance of this dog, which may just be an incidental dog in the medievalist tradition, or another family pet.
Finally, a deliberate decision by Marga. In her St Dominic Window, she features a dog very prominently. In itself, it is not unusual for an artist to do this: the name Dominic means “dog of the Lord”, and the order he founded, the Dominicans, were often referred to as ‘the hounds of the Lord’, because of their (sometimes excessive…) zeal. The dog carries a burning torch in its mouth, a sign of that zeal.
However, what breed is the dog? The story of St Dominic never specifies an actual breed.
In Marga’s depiction, it is black-and-white, the colours of the Dominicans’ habit. The experts also suggest that it is probably a pointer, which makes sense, as a pointer is a hunting dog.
Other, more generic dogs, also figure in Margaret’s other windows (much more so than cats for instance), so it was clearly an animal she was fond of.
But… it seems… one dog more than others.
With grateful thanks to the Kennel Club Research Library staff who were so helpful in identifying Marga’s dogs.
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