Published: April 1, 2008
A new exhibition featuring nearly 50 miniatures from the Morgan Library and Museum’s hunting manuscript by Gaston Phoebus (1331‱391), Le Livre de la chasse , Paris, circa 1407, is on view April 18⁁ugust 10.
“Illuminating the Medieval Hunt” presents a unique opportunity for the public to see a large number of these miniatures displayed together because this manuscript has been unbound temporarily for conservation and the preparation of a facsimile. Visitors can leaf through a copy of the facsimile and compare these images with those in other original manuscripts and early printed editions that demonstrate how hunting themes made their way into a broader cultural context in religious literature as well as secular texts. About two dozen manuscripts and printed books, dating from the Eleventh to the Sixteenth Century, are on display.
Considered the sport of kings and noblemen, hunting was a popular aristocratic pastime during the medieval period. Numerous manuscripts were written on the subject, and these treatises, made for wealthy patrons, were often lavishly decorated. Among the most famous and earliest medieval texts on hunting, Le Livre de la chasse was written by Phoebus between 1387 and 1389 and dedicated to Philip the Bold (1342‱404), Duke of Burgundy. Although the dedication manuscript is lost, numerous copies were customarily commissioned by noblemen.
The Morgan’s copy is thought to have been commissioned by Philip the Bold’s son, John the Fearless (1371‱419), who presumably inherited his father’s manuscript and had copies made. During the late Fifteenth Century, it was owned by King Ferdinand II of Aragón and Queen Isabella of Castile, who added to it their full-page coat of arms. Of the 46 known surviving copies of the manuscript, the Morgan’s is one of the two finest extant examples; the other, in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, was made at the same time and contains the same cycle of 87 miniatures.
Le Livre de la chasse is divided into four books †on gentle and wild beasts; on the nature of dogs and their care; on hunting in general and hunting with dogs; and on hunting with traps, snares and cross bow. Written in French, the work was enormously popular throughout Europe and England, where it was translated under the title Master of Game .
The miniatures of the Morgan manuscript are shown in their proper sequence, revealing the characteristics and habits of the animals, the various devices and strategies involved in the hunt and the costumes of both the aristocratic hunters and their servants. A large number of miniatures are devoted to the hound, which Phoebus called the “noblest and most reasonable beast that God ever created.” Phoebus bred hunting dogs and, according to the famous chronicler Jean Froissart, kept kennels for some 1,600 hounds.
The exhibition includes extremely rare first and second printed editions of Le Livre de la chasse (both issued in Paris around 1407) along with the first printed book on hunting (Chambéry, 1486), also based on a Fourteenth Century text. Also on view are the first and second editions of the Book of St Albans , the first English book on hunting, with additional sections on heraldry and falconry.
The Morgan Library & Museum is at 225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street. For information, www.themorgan.org or 212-685-0008.
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