This image is of a painting by John Emms, a 19th century English painter, who portrayed these two St. Bernards with brandy barrels around their necks—a detail that may have more basis in legend than historical fact. But what is for certain is that since the early 18th century, monks living at the St. Bernard de Menthon hospice and monastery near a 2400-meter mountain pass between Italy and Switzerland have been keeping and breeding these types of dogs to assist them on dangerous rescue missions.
The most famous among them was Barry, who lived at the monastery between 1800-1812 and reportedly saved over 40 lives. Barry’s heroism resonated with a great many Swiss people and consequently, his body was put on exhibit at the Natural History Museum in Berne. To this day, visitors can come and get a look at this inspirational dog. A group of devotees have also established an organization, the Fondation Barry, the mission of which is to maintain the original breeding of the ‘Grand St. Bernard’—Barry’s breed. Over the years people began to breed the ‘Grand St. Bernards’ with others to alter certain features, and the result has been what we know today as the common St. Bernard. Barry and the rest of the ‘Grand St. Bernards’ were actually smaller than today’s better-known cousin and had shorter hair.