Papillon history is as rich as the dog's ears are fascinating — if not more so. Art depicting these dogs have been found from as far back as the 14th century, and a number of Renaissance masters such as Boucher, Rubens, and Watteau have featured the breed in their works. In 1870, a particularly famous painting by Renoir, "Head of a Dog," was produced. European royalty was known to have owned these dogs, and one was believed to have been carried by France's Marie Antoinette when she was led to the guillotine.
Despite the dog's popularity in centuries past, the origins of the Papillon is unclear. There are those who claim the dog ultimate came from the Japanese Chin. Some say it was Belgium, others claim it was France and still others declare Spain was the place these terriers were first known. Likewise, there are many names that this dog has been called: Dwarf Spaniels, Epagneuls Nain, Little Squirrel Dog and Belgian Toy Spaniel are but a few of them.
Although European kennel clubs — such as the FCI — recognizes just one breed (under a different name), the club lists two varieties under it: Papillons from Phalenes. The AKC, which first listed the breed in 1915, only recognizes one breed and has Papillons and Phalenes under "Papillon." (In French, "papillon" means "butterfly" and "phalène" means "moth," which is used to describe the dog's floppy, fallen ears.) The Kennel Club (in England) recognized the breed a few years later in 1923, and the FCI accepted the breed in 1954.
In 1935, the Papillon Club of America was founded, and the members were detailed in maintaining Papillon dog history. Although it dissolved in 1943, it was revived in 1948 and continues to this day. These days, the Papillon is very popular, and there is apparently a U.S.-based campaign to distinguish Papillons from Phalenes.