The Gaston Phoebus - Master of Game is the most famous record of medieval hunting and an impressive documentation of natural history. Made around 1387, it is one of the finest manuscripts ever made in the Middle Ages. Shining gold and glowing colors testify to the high quality of the work, produced in the Bedford Masters workshop.
The Most Celebrated Hunting Book of Medieval Times
Gaston III, count of Foix and Béarn in the south of France, wrote his "Livre de chasse,", or Master of Game, in the years 1387–1389. This work not only represents the most famous record of medieval hunting, but may also be considered as one of the most interesting testimonies to the cultural history of its time.
Gaston de Foix, because of his bright blond hair also called "Phoebus" after the Greek sun god, describes in his four-part hunting book not only the then common forms of hunting, but also presents an impressive natural history, which – long before the times of the empiric sciences – was based on the extensive observation of different species and used as a text book well into the nineteenth century.
A Bestseller, Straight from the Middle Ages
Right from the beginning, the Master of Game was a great success. The courts of France and Burgundy saw in it more than a study of nature; instead it was rather considered a work of art that inspired painters and writers for many generations.
The most outstanding quality was reached by the Masters of the Bedford workshop, to whom we owe this painted manuscript. Scholars claim that it is among "the finest manuscripts ever made in the Middle Ages."
Shining Gold and Glowing Colors
This hitherto little known, but magnificently painted hand-written copy of the lost original text of the Master of Game was commissioned by Duke Philip the Bold, brother of the bibliophile Duc de Berry.
Its 128 folios in the impressive format of 38.5 x 28.6 cm contain eighty-seven extraordinary miniatures. Their bright and fresh colors on the sumptuous, partly finely chiselled gold grounds present a surprising painting technique of a sensitive and subtle aesthetics.
The elaborate studies of animals and nature, the realistic figural scenes are just as impressive as the sensitive treatment of color. The rendering of three-dimensionality in the painting was revolutionary for the time. All this is proof of the high level of craftsmanship reached by the French artists.
The Brilliant Art of Painting from the Workshop of the Bedford Master
Duke Philip the Bold chose only the best book painters then active in Paris to decorate his Master of Game. The artists from the workshop of the Bedford Master created miniatures of outstanding and fresh vivacity.
The unique treatment of three-dimensional forms and faces, as well as the softly swinging drapery are distinctive features of their style.
Glowing Gold and Precious Colors: The Whole Range of Artistic Possibilities
Today we stand in awe before the elaborately painted images of the Master of Game, evidence of the amazing creativity and devotion with which the book painters performed their task.
The masterly artists from the Bedford workshop managed to transpose their almost lyrical sense of the realm of Nature into a world of imagery infatuated with even the tiniest details.
The multitude of backgrounds made of precious gold and brightly shining colors in our painted manuscript is sheer endless. In some cases the applied gold leaf was additionally decorated with filigree chiselling or partly painted with colored motifs; in others, the painters added the subdued tone of brush gold to the colored grounds.
A particular challenge to the mastery of the artists was the lozenge pattern whose individual elements were additionally highlighted with filigree decoration.
Images Reminiscent of Princely Castles
The generous layout of the paintings in the Master of Game and their particular effect of depth are strongly reminiscent of exquisite tapestries. The artists obviously wanted to achieve this effect using certain painting techniques to further underline the glory of the miniatures in the book.
We have 2 facsimiles of the manuscript "Gaston Phoebus - Master of Game":
- Gaston Phoebus - Das Buch der Jagd (Deluxe Edition) facsimile edition published by Faksimile Verlag, 2005
- Gaston Phoebus - Das Buch der Jagd facsimile edition published by Faksimile Verlag, 2007