The small dog graves
THE SMALL DOG GRAVES
Baron van Westreenen was not only a great lover of manuscripts, books and art, but also of dogs. During his lifetime he kept at least seven. Their names are known: Caesar, Negresse, Diana, Actaeon, Donau, Leto and Feltlauff.
When Diana, Actaeon, Donau and Leto died, they were buried in a small cemetery that had been laid out in front of the coach house. Van Westreenen had stones with inscriptions placed on their graves. The idea was that Feltlauff, who survived his master, would be buried in the baron’s grave – this was stipulated under the terms of the baron’s will – but it did not happen.
The dogs’ gravestones can still be seen in the garden of the museum. The Latin epitaphs are full of spelling mistakes because the memorial mason was unable to read the baron’s handwriting properly. For instance, Leto’s stone reads Hollndico, although Hollandico should have been carved there. The words testify to great love. For instance, the text on Actaeon’s grave reads ‘In memory of the little all-white dog Actaeon, paragon of vanity and beauty, Baron van Westreenen van Tiellandt, with a sad heart, placed this stone in the year 1845.’
On 22 July 1878 the Arnhemsche Courant recalled an anecdote about Van Westreenen’s unusual love of dogs: ‘Whenever one of his four-footed housemates went on its last journey, […] a solemn funeral would take place; the baron himself, dressed in a lace gown as treasurer and archivist of the College of Arms, was the first mourner to walk behind the corpse, which was enclosed in a lovely coffin. The manservant followed with the remaining dogs as next of kin of the deceased, and all the other domestic servants took part in the funeral procession.’
In the opinion of W.A. Laseur in 1998 ‘this charming story certainly contains a kernel of truth. Van Westreenen believed that his pet animals possessed almost human qualities.’