by Matthew Cobb
There is a community of medievalists on Twitter who re-tweet their latest finds in their studies of illustrated manuscripts. I follow some of them, and this popped up in my Twitter stream today. It is a stupendous 112 page 13th century Sicilian manuscript from the Vatican Library, dealing with birds and falconry (De Artes Venandi Cum Avibus, Pal. lat. 1071). [SEE EDIT AT END FOR MORE INFO]
Here are just some of the examples of the illustrations. Birders who think they can ID the beasts, chip in below. Better still, go to the Vatican site (not often you’ll read those words here) and then come back to tell us what you’ve found – please give the page number, which will be a number followed by r (recto) or v (verso).
All the illustrations here are taken from there, and are obviously their copyright.
This first image (12r) shows a stork nesting on top of a tower on the right. The MS has been damaged by water…
Here, on 18r, are some owls (which kinds?). The point of the MS, however, appears to be about falconry, and the second half of it has illustrations relating to hunting with birds. Here are some raptors from 56r:
Here’s an uncoloured drawing of a falconer from 99r (the illustrations on 94r – 105r haven’t been finished):
This gives you an idea of what the finished drawings look like:
And here’s an image from 69r of what a hunter would do after a hard day’s falconry – swim (with his hat on) , while his falcon noms a duck by the side of the lake.
In this account, Judge Arthur Tompkins of the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art (which I presume doesn’t include bad taste), describes a visit to the Vatican Library where he was allowed to see a 1969 reproduction of the MS, but not the original. The MS is a copy of an original that was lost during the 1248 siege of Parma.
EDIT: Thanks to ThonyC (aka @rmathematicus) who points out that the original MS (of which this is a contemporaneous copy) was made for/written by Frederick II, who was Holy Roman Emperor at the time, but nonetheless set up a secular legal system, was a skeptic who was excommunicated twice for his pains, founded the world’s first secular university (the University of Naples), argued that physicians should learn anatomy by dissection rather than book-learning, and was obsessed with falconry (hence this fantastic book). Interestingly, according to John C Wilkins, Frederick wrote a preface to this book in which he criticised Aristotle becaause “we find many quotations from other authors whose statements he did not verify and who, in their turn, were not speaking from experience. Entire conviction of the truth never follows mere hearsay.” Amazingly, no sooner had Aristotle been translated into Latin then this man began criticising him using terms that we would be expect to see in the 17th century, not the 13th.
SECOND EDIT: ThonyC also pointed out that I should have consulted Wikipedia! (Jerry will be amused by this as I am generally suspicious of that website and scold my students when they cite it.) However, the Wikipedia page on De arte venandi cum avibus points out that it was dedicated by Frederick II to his son, Manfred. In turn, Manfred commissioned this Vatican copy of the MS, and it contains “additions made by Manfred, which are all clearly marked in the beginning by notations such as “Rex”, “Rex Manfredus” or “addidit Rex”". The reference for this is a 1923 article by Charles Haskins in The English Historical Review. The age of the internet being so amazing, not only can we all see the amazing manuscript, we can also find the article at the click of a mouse. Haskins analyses the various versions of the manuscript, and points out that the image at the beginning of the MS, on 1r, is in fact of the amazing Frederick II himself, complete with one of his beloved falcons:
h/t Kathleen McCallum aka @peripheralpal
[EDIT: Kathleen in turn got the link from Giulio Menna from Leiden aka @SexyCodicology who has a website here. Follow them both on Twitter for more medieval manuscript mayhem!]