Fifty-four folios with 101 masterly composed colourful genre scenes on the art of falconry – the “Vienna Moamyn” is a unique bibliophile treasure from the late medieval period that really deserves to be discovered.
Frederick II., the master of western falconry literature
With his famous treatise on falconry “De arte venandi cum avibus” (“On the Art of Hunting with Birds”), Frederick II of Hohenstaufen (1194-1250) wrote a ground-breaking work about falconry in order to preserve a more than two-thousand-year-old cultural technique from the Central Asian and Arabian realms for the Western world. Based on Arabic sources and his own intensive observations and studies about the anatomy, life, and learning patterns of birds of prey, he compiled a monumental treatise, which in its factual and systematic presentation is unmatched in the 13th century and still highly significant for falconry today.
The contents of the “moamyn”
Written in Latin, the “Moamyn” is a five-volume treatise on falconry and the keeping of hounds, which deals with all aspects of hunting with birds and dogs. Book 1 provides in-depth knowledge about birds of prey and the difficult process of training them, while Books 2 and 3 are dedicated to various avian diseases and proven healing methods. Books 4 and 5 deal with the correct husbandry and care of hounds.
The “Vienna moamyn” – a lavishly illustrated luxury manuscript
Out of the 27 surviving Latin manuscripts of the “Moamyn”, only two have been illustrated throughout: the older one – with a longer text – was written in the late 13th century in Central or Southern Italy and decorated on behalf of a high-ranking patron as a luxury volume.
The layout of the 54 folios arranges the text of the “Vienna Moamyn” in a single column; it is written in a regular, dark-brown script with red rubrics and decorated with 101 historiated initials. The letters introducing the individual textual sections extend over 4 to 10 lines and are set within gold-grounded near-square-shaped panels that are framed with a black outline. From the corners of this frame emanate elegantly curling scrolls that extend into the blank parchment margin and end in floral or leafy forms. The bodies of the letters themselves carry charming little scenes in shining body colours, that directly refer to the contents of the chapter in question.
An Arabian book of falconry for Frederick II.
No other medieval ruler practised falconry with the same enthusiasm as the King of Sicily. However, for Frederick falconry was more than a mere pastime but rather a discipline in its own right, to which he increasingly turned toward the end of his life. He wrote “De arte venandi cum avibus” in the last decade of his life, and in 1240 called the philosopher and physician Theodore of Antioch from the Middle East to his royal court in Sicily to do a Latin translation from another significant Arabic work on falconry: “Liber Moamin falconarii de scientia venandi per aves et quadrupedes” (The Book of Falconer Moamyn on the Art of Hunting With Birds and Quadrupeds).
The volume was probably compiled from two Oriental hunting treatises edited in the 8th and 9th centuries: from the Falcon Book of al-Gitrif and for the main portion from a four-book treatise dedicated to the caliph al-Mutawakkil. The Arabic original of this latter version was written between 847 and 861 for the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad and is only preserved in fragments. Its author Muhammad Abdallāh al-Bāzyār (Mohamed, son of Abdallah the Falconer) is also known to have published astronomic works. In the Latin version of the newly compiled treatise his name is no longer mentioned. Authorship is now attributed to “the falconer Moamyn” who is only traceable in the Western tradition. Frederick II is known to have personally revised the translation of the “Moamyn” during the siege of Faenza in 1240. The volume interested him since he was just preparing his monumental “De arte venandi cum avibus”. The pictures in the “Vienna Moamyn” are a spectacular addition to his own treatise, in that they depict the curing of ill falcons, a topic that the royal work leaves aside.
The commentary volume to go with the facsimile edition is authored by Baudouin Van de Abeele. The world-renowned expert for medieval hunting treatises is professor of medieval sciences at the Université catholique de Louvain, head of the Centre d’études sur le Moyen Age et la Renaissance (UCL), and editor of the series Bibliotheca cynegetica (Droz).