Wednesday, November 16, 2011
History of The Bichon Frise
From rags to riches, from riches to rags. Thus fortune has fluctuated for the delightful representatives of the canine world now known as the Bichon Frise. Through the ages, these little dogs have given pleasure, sometimes from the streets and allesy of European cities, sometimes from the palaces of rayalty, sometimes as performing dogs. And they have filled each role with charm, humor and aplomb, in keeping with their versatile, enchanting personalities.
Origin of the Breed
Descended from the Barbet, or Water Spaniel, the "Barbichon" group consisted of four categories: the Bichon Maltaise, the Bichon Bolognese, the Bichon Ravenese, and the hero of our story, the Bichon Teneriffe. All belonged to the Mediterranean region. Historic references to the Bichons, dating as far in the past as 230 B.C., bear testimony to their antiquity. And from paintings, sketches, and other artistic depictions of them, we learn that they have changed little in appearance through the centuries existence. Rumor also has it that the Bichon touches all the way back into the times of the illustrious Cleopatra, to whom its presence was known during her reign as Queen of the Nile. It is also said that Cleopatra herself possessed a few of these little dogs and that their image can be found in Egyptian sarcophagi.
For many years the Bichon Frise was known as the Teneriffe, causing it to be said that it was a native of the Canary Islands, most especially the largest of this group, Teneriffe Island. We read that the Romans discovered the existence of the Canary Islands through Juba, King of Mauretania, whose account of an expedition there about 40 B.C. mentions "Canaria, so called from the mulititude of dogs of great size," substantiating that dogs were indigenous to the Canaries. But, from the description, it hardly seems plausible that these were the forebears of the little Bichon. Far more acceptable is the belief that the Bichon Teneriffe originated on the Spanish mainland, from where the dogs were transported by Spanish sailors who used them for sale and barter. That the dogs took well to the Canaries is certainly true and their popularity with the people of Teneriffe is attested to by their having become known as the Bichon Teneriffe, under which name they flourished for many generations. Perhaps Bichon Teneriffe was considered as more exotic sounding title then just plain Bichon, adding to the trading value of the dogs. Whatever the reason, the name was retained for the breed through several centuries.
The Renaissance found the Bichon Teneriffe appearing in Italy, undoubtedly traded by the sailors at the busy and important Italian ports. Quickly the little dogs became firmly entrenched as pets of Italian nobility and of those striving to emalute the nobles' tastes. Interestingly, during this period the Bichon Teneriffe dogs were trimmed and groomed in lionlike patterns, conforming to the style popular for other breeds of the day.
The French invasions of Italy during the latter part of the fifteenth and throughout the sixteenth century, saw the Teneriffe dogs among the prizes brought home to France by returning warriors. And then it was that the era of their greatest success began.