De Arte Venandi cum Avibus fol 141 Pal. Lat. 1071 © Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana

Frederic II Hunting with Birds

Frederic II, Holy-Roman Emperor, is known for his audacious life, his great Italian castles and his wars with the Pope. But he was also an avid patron of the arts. His hunting book is one of his great legacies.

De Arte Venandi cum Avibus © Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana
De Arte Venandi cum Avibus fol 102 © Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana

Frederic II (1194 -1250) is one of those medieval rulers, who simply seems to have been larger-than-life. Viewing himself as a direct successor to the Roman Emperors, he ruled a huge swath of Europe from Northern Germany and all the way to Sicily. He was four times excommunicated because he was at war with the papacy, took part in a crusade (the sixth) and spoke six languages. He was married three times and had at least nine mistresses, with whom he had illegitimate offspring. He was also an avid patron of art, poetry, literature, architecture and known to be an enlightened ruler over a multi-cultural and multi-confessional multitude of people.

An expression of his colossal appetite on life, is the book, he wrote on the Art of Hunting with Birds (De Arte Venandi cum Avibus).

This book was written by the king and dedicated to his son Manfred in the 1240s. The book is famous because the king primarily describes the things as they are (“que sunt, sicut sunt”) and not as he had read in the different classical as well as Arabic treatises, which he knew of (Aristotle’s treatises on animals in Latin translation, Liber Animalum, and De Scientia Venandi per Aves, a treatise by the Arab falconer Moamyn.)

The original autograph by Frederic II was lost during the siege of Parma in 1248. However, there exists several copies, of which the one in the Vatical Library is by far the most famous. The manuscript belongs to the two-book version and is illustrated with brilliantly coloured, extraordinarily lifelike, accurate and minute images of birds, their attendants, and the instruments of the art. This manuscript contains additions made by Manfred, which are all clearly marked in the beginning by notations such as “Rex”, “Rex Manfredus” or “addidit Rex”.

Recently, this manuscript has been digitized and all the world may now freely enjoy the fabulous art of the illuminations.


De Arte Venandi cum Avibus

Bibliotea Apostolica Vaticana
Pal. Lat. 1071

Photos: © Bibliotea Apostilica VaticanaDe Arte Venandi cum Avibus fol 209


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