Untrue Historic "Facts" It’s Time to Erase

‘Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveler’, by Edwin Landseer, 1820. Wikimedia

39. Origin of a Myth

The first time a Saint Bernard rescued somebody with a barrel of spirits strapped to its neck did not occur in Switzerland. Instead, it took place in England in 1820, in the art studio of then-seventeen-year-old Edwin Henry Landseer (1802 – 1873). His painting is entitled Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveler.

It was the work of a teenage prodigy who was reportedly ambidextrous and could paint with both hands simultaneously. While one of Landseer’s hands painted a dog’s head, the other would be busy painting its tail, and both would meet in the middle. The creator of the myth of the rescue dogs lugging brandy kegs had never been to the Alps. However, he had seen and was impressed by a Saint Bernard – which had not yet gained that name – that had toured England on an exhibit.