Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats




The Art of Falconry

An Emperor's book of tricks



The noble and powerful of this world, who are burdened with the duties of ruling, can, through the practice of this art, find beneficial distraction from their cares. The poor and the less elegant can, on the other hand, earn their living from it, assisting at the hunt.

Emperor Frederick II, De arte venandi cum avibus (On the art of hunting with falcons), before 1248



Falconer at a medieval pageant in Landshut



The margins of the so-called "Falcon Book"

are like an aviary, teeming with pheasants and quail, red-legged partridges and swallows, turtledoves and plovers, oyster catchers and vultures. More than 500 representations of at least 80 different species of bird adorn one of the most famous medieval manuscripts, and the author of this work is no less a personage than Emperor Frederick II. According to the Arab chronicler Ibn al-Giawzi, the Emperor was a bald-headed man, near-sighted and of reddish complexion and, had he been a slave, would have been worth little. Yet, to his admirers he was the "wonder of the world". Born in 1194 at Jesi near Ancona, Frederick II was considered to be "the first modern ruler" by Jacob Burckhardt. He spoke not only "vulgar Latin", the Italian vernacular, but also mastered Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, French and a Provencal dialect. His court was the Western centre of science and art during the first half of the thirteenth century.

Frederick II was a patron of the arts, open to Judaic and Islamic culture, and interested in astrology and medicine. Driven by insatiable curiosity, he laid the ground work for Italian poetry, introduced — and this was of great controversy — experiments on human beings, and earned a reputation as a natural scientist. A great deal of his knowledge in this last field is contained in his "Falcon Book". In it he describes how falcons, eagles and hawks can be tamed and trained to hunt game birds and small animals. He is just as well-informed on the prey of his falcons. An inveterate polymath, the Emperor, in loving detail, describes their appearance, anatomy, habits, flight patterns and defensive strategies — so precisely that the "Falcon Book" is still used today as a basic textbook in the field of ornithology. He was the first to present evidence on the cuckoo bird's sneaky habit of laying its eggs in other birds' nests.

For all the admiration he receives, Frederick II owed his sole military defeat to his passion for science and hunting. On 18 February 1248, the city of Parma went on the offensive against the Emperor's troops after he had besieged the city for months. The offensive succeeded and part of the imperial treasure was lost, including the original manuscript of the "Falcon Book". Frederick II was out hunting with his birds of prey when the surprise attack was mounted. Adding insult to injury, the biographer of Pope Gregory IX, who did not care much for the Emperor, implied that the Emperor had degraded the title of "His Imperial Highness" to that of a game-keeper.


Anonymous, Italian
Frederick II with a Falcon
From the Manfred Manuscript of
De arte venandi cum avibus, III leaves
Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Rome


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