Fifty pages of Gaston Phoebus's "Le Livre de la Chasse" are on display at the Morgan Library and Museum in NYC right now in an exhibition entitle "Illuminating the Hunt." The 14th century illuminated manuscript is considered an authoritative text on wild animals, hunting methods, making love and war, and caring for hounds.
The Morgan's copy of this lavishly illuminated (artist unknown) guide for aristocratic sportsmen is considered one of the two finest surviving examples (the other is at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France). The rare book needed to be disbound for conservation so this is a wonderful opportunity to view the pages as the individual works of art they are.
According to Karen Rosenberg of The New York Times, Phoebus's work can be challenging for animal lovers, with sections devoted to strategies for tracking, trapping, and flaying quarry. But the violence of the hunt is offset by Phoebus's devotion and respect for dogs. The author kept 1,600 hounds, promoted foot baths, haircuts, and ear exams for them, and calls them "the noblest and most reasonable beast."
Today, I consider hunting barbaric. But dressed in jeweled tones and written for 14th century aristocrats, "Le Livre de la Chasse" sounds like a gem I would love to see for myself.
I love the dogs begging at the table with their sweet, eager faces. Some things never change for dog owners!
The exhibition runs until August 10, 2008. More information here.
(Note: the last four images above are from the French version.)