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The mother dog rests beside a gnarled rock and palm, watching her three puppies at play. Two pups wrestle with each other, while the third races towards its mother. Dogs are one of the twelve zodiac animals and are heavily associated with fidelity, loyalty, and courage. Although the painting is unsigned, the fact that it has no calligraphy or signature and is coloured, strongly hints that this is a painting made at Court. Chinese paintings have generally (and sometimes imperfectly) been categorised into ‘professional’ painting and ‘literati’ painting. Literati paintings, as the name suggests were done by ‘amateur’ scholar gentry; they are painted almost exclusively in ink with no colour and have poetic inscriptions in fine calligraphy reflecting the literary education of the artist. Court paintings were done by ‘professional’ painters who during the Ming dynasty, were often given a titular rank in the palace guards; they are done in colour, with no calligraphy or signature. Although dogs were rarely painted by the literati, the Ming court seems to have favoured them – perhaps due to their value in royal hunting trips, a practice inherited from the previous Mongol Yuan dynasty (despite attempts to sweep away Mongol practices and customs). The Xuande emperor (1399-1435), an avid hunter, also painted two Saluki hounds around 1427. Dogs would continue to be a favourite subject of Court painters and in the 18th century, Italian Jesuit painter Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766) would also paint dogs for his royal patrons.