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De arte venandi cum avibus

On the art of hunting with birds One of the great passions of the Swabian Emperor was hunting, which he cultivated in the widest sense of the term. For Fredrick II, in fact, hunting was a spiritual exercise, regarded as a way to better get to know nature. However, he was not satisfied with the only practice of this sport, considered by him as a form of art and science: he had thirst for knowledge so he read up on birds and on hunting with birds of prey and he housed specialists and experts of falconry in his palace. Admiring Nature What he read and what he heard from these experts, expressly come from Saudi Arabia and from other places, had to be examined by him. The emperor, that is, prioritised objectivity and was one of the first Latin academic to consider this direct observation above the writers’ authority. He successfully reported a lot of information so that he was able to draw up a real essay on falconry: “De arte venandi cum avibus”, that is “On the art of hunting with birds”.It is not easy to establish with precision the birth of this composition because its elaboration was occasional and slow and the ultimate version revealed the style of another person, probably Manfredi. Perhaps the studies began before his leaving for the crusade and the consistent collection of the research material lasted not less than a decade. He got himself hawks and similar from England, Ireland, Spain, Bulgaria, Asia Minor, Egypt, India and other eastern countries to make a comparison among them.

 The Emperor’s talentatore  

Over 500 pictures enrich the work, an out-and-out manual on the art of hunting that includes farming, training and exploiting methods for hunting with birds of prey (especially hawks). Since it is said that Federico II was a good draftsman, it is very likely he was the maker of these very well-finished pictures, especially in the choice of the plumage colours and in the details of anatomical parts.

From the brute strength to the collaboration

The ‘De arte venandi cum avibus’, for its setting-out and for the size of its research, beat and vanished all the previous works about ornithology, gaining an international feature. Thanks to him, the Western world knew falconry conceived in the respect of birds of prey. The original manuscript (a code on parchment composed by 111 sheets), actually a copy drafted by his son Manfredi after 1285, is preserved in the Vatican library.

With Fredrick II the old idea about haunting, intended as deceit or brute strength aimed to destroy the prey, leaves enough space for an idea of practice with the cooperation of bright and trained animals. Long-wings falconry becomes the most loyal and noble form of confrontation ever existed, where the relationship between the human being and nature reaches its highest expression of harmony, with the bird of prey on the top of the pyramid, and the falconer, horses and dogs at the bottom.

Sources: “La cultura alla corte di Federico II Imperatore” by Antonino De Stefano “Federico II e la Falconeria” – Copyright  ©2001 Alberto Gentile (www.stupormundi.it)

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