As an unabashed dog lover, I am intrigued by the figure of a lass weeping besides her dog. I must admit that I have not yet found an example I want to own...but I do keep on looking. So what's the scoop behind the figure dubbed Poor Maria?
Staffordshire figure known as "Poor Maria." Circa 1810.
This figure derives from a book titled A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy. It was written by Laurence Sterne and published weeks before his death in 1768. Sterne wrote, "I discovered Poor Maria sitting under a poplar--she was sitting with her elbow in her lap, and her head leaning on one side within her hand. She was dress'd in white, and much as my friend had described her except that her hair hung loose, which before was twisted within a silk net. She had, superadded likewise to her jacket, a pale green ribband, which fell across her shoulder to the waist; at the end of which hung her pipe. Her goat had been as faithless as her lover; and she had got a little dog in lieu of him, which she had kept tied by a string to her girdle."
From the 1770s, artists (including Angelica Kauffmann) painted Maria with her dog, but Joseph Wright of Derby's Maria with her Dog Silvio (1781) is perhaps the best known painting and the source of the Staffordshire figure. Robert Sayer's engraving in a 1797 edition of Sterne's book further popularized the image. Both images are above. Hope you are as delighted by them as I am.