The history of the Papillon is traced through works of art, especially those of the Old Masters. The earliest toy spaniels resembling the papillon are found in Italy in famous around 1500. In a painting in the Wallace Collection in London, a Papillon is clearly shown in a family portrait of Louis XIV. Papillons can also be found in paintings of royal families around Europe and paintings of ordinary families.
The “Titian spaniels” had the drooping ears typical of today’s Phalène; but the breed did not become popular until the end of the 19th century. The Titian spaniels were also exclusively red-and-white in coloration, in contrast to the many recognized colorations of today’s Papillon.
The Papillon’s history and long association with royalty have led to many stories. Legend has that Marie Antoinette walked to the guillotine, carrying her small dog. Marie Antoinette’s dog descended from a very old drop-eared breed known as the Epagneul Nain, or Continental Dwarf/Toy Spaniel that appeared in art as early as the 13th century.
The Papillon is still officially referred to as the Epagneul Nain (ENC) in non-English-speaking countries. The papillon derived its name from the large, erect ears that resembled the wings of a butterfly. The drop-eared variety of the breed is called the Phalène, which means “night moth”.