Gaston Phébus - Le livre de la chasse

Ms. fr. 616 - Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)

Alternate Titles:

Gaston Phoebus - The Book of Hunt, Buch der Jagd von Gaston Phoebus

Facsimile edition
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Alternate Titles

Gaston Phoebus - The Book of Hunt
Buch der Jagd von Gaston Phoebus

Extent / Format

275 pages / 37.0 x 28.0 cm

Around 1405-1410

87 hunting scenes in vivid miniatures, mostly painted on ”stencil pattern” backgrounds and rich floral ornaments

Former owners

Archduke Ferdinand of Tyrol
Charles V
King Louis XIV
King Louis Philippe

Short description

The Livre de la Chasse or Book of the Hunt by Gaston Phoebus is the authoritative source on hunting in the Late Middle Ages and is one of the greatest gems of French illumination to survive today. It features 87 miniatures embellished with the generous application of gold leaf, but what makes the text unique is its author: the Count of Foix, Gaston "Phoebus" III. This manuscript belongs among a select few that were authored by members of the medieval nobility, such as the Art of Falconry by Frederick II. Originally composed in the 1380's, the text was tranformed into a luxury manuscript in a Parisian workshop during the early 15th century. The manuscript comprehensively deals with the subject of hunting, and Gaston III even devotes considerable space to the hunter's greatest resource: dogs, and as such comments not only on breeding and training dogs but on their character as well.

Facsimile editions available


Penned by a Nobleman

The Livre de la Chasse by Gaston Phoebus, which was later to be translated into English under the title of Book of the Hunt, is one of the most precious gems ever produced in medieval French workshops with illumination of outstanding quality. Its 87 miniatures are mostly painted on "stencil pattern" backgrounds and are unique in book painting, most of them richly embellished with gold. They present animals and lively hunting scenes with an unequalled sense of nature. The manuscript enjoyed great popularity for its text as well, which is written in excellent French and is of great significance for the history of hunting. The author, Gaston III Count of Foix, surnamed Phoebus, probably because of his bright blond hair, wrote this sophisticated piece of literature in the 1380's. He was an excellent, experienced master of the art and practice of hunting. It is to him that we owe our general knowledge on the art of hunting as it was practiced in the 14th century.

The Sumptuous Miniatures

The miniatures pay homage to the hunting tradition on a very high artistic level. They are the work of a team of artists who were active in a Parisian workshop of the early 15th century. The artfully designed and lavishly decorated backgrounds of the miniatures remind us of tapestries in a small format. This background painting required much patience and extreme precision and was the work of specialised craftsmen. The illumination of the book was performed in two stages: first, the figures, animals, surrounding landscape and different objects, were painted. In this phase, the artists impress us not least with realistic, detailed illustrations and the vivacity of figures. Then the rich floral ornaments were added. The delicate thorned leaf ornaments have a very special charm. Winding around the miniatures and numerous initials in red and blue on gilded ground, they are dispersed throughout the manuscript for the enjoyment of the reader.

All About Hunting

In his Book of the Hunt, Gaston Phoebus describes the animals of the chase, their character and behaviour. Besides surprising and curious details, the reader will find extended passages of familiar facts and even modern tricks of the trade allowing him to reflect his own experience and see whether the evidence allows for bridging the gap of 600 years of intellectual history. Gaston also dedicates much of his book to the dog, the most faithful companion of the hunter. He indulges in reflections on the dog’s character, but also on diverse breeds and their appearance. One also finds rules of behavior for the correct training and care of these animals which are essential to the hunt. The passionate hunter also deals with coursing, the pursuit of game by hounds hunting by sight, in detail .

A Very Popular Work

At a time when hunting played a major role in noble circles, the great echo made by the Book of the Hunt by Gaston Phoebus was only natural. It immediately became very popular and very soon its fame extended far beyond the borders of France, especially to England. The text became a true best seller and was often copied, translated, illustrated and – with the invention of the printed book – published in numerous editions.

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