Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Hunting Book of Gaston Phebus: Manuscrit Francais 616, Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Hunting Book of Gaston Phebus: Manuscrit Francais 616, Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale

Article excerpt

The Hunting Book of Gaston Phebus.- manuscrit francais 616, Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale, introd. Marcel Thomas and Francois Avril, commentary by Wilhelm Schlag, Manuscripts in Miniature 3 (London: Harvey Miller, 1998). 276 colour facsimile pages + 79 PP. ISBN 1-8725-0197-4. L (English pound)48.00.

This facsimile, first published in the 'Glanzlichter der Buchkunst' series in 1994, makes available in its entirety one of the most attractive manuscripts of the early fifteenth century. Individual illuminations from it have frequently been reproduced, and selections have appeared in editions both of the original and of the Middle English translation by Edward Duke of York, but seeing it complete brings home the extent of the cultural and material investment in hunting that characterized the Middle Ages.

Gaston Phebus completed his Livre de chasse in 1389, and it achieved instant fame; forty-four manuscripts of the French text survive. The editorial material to the facsimile describes the history of the manuscript and of the text, distinguishes three principal illustrators, and provides a chapter-by-chapter summary together with a brief commentary. The text is essential reading for an understanding of the value placed on hunting and the details of its practice, replicated as they are in dozens of literary texts. Gaston's defence of the hunt as promoting the salvation of the huntsman's soul is a useful reminder not to project modern attitudes backwards, and his delight in the dew sparkling in the dawn landscape is an equally useful reminder that medieval and modern responses are not necessarily so far apart.

The real delight, however, is the pictures. The introduction to the facsimile discusses details of the handling of the figures, the backgrounds, the use of space, and so on, but makes little comment on their function. …

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