As I was researching the sport of falconry for our recent event and demonstration a few weeks ago, I found myself going down a “falconry in art” rabbit hole.  Our Library really is a wonderful repository. We have several shelves of books with titles like The Art of Falconry (1943), American Falconry in the Twentieth Century (1999), Practical Falconry; to which is added, How I Became a Falconer (1972), Falconry for You (1960), and Falconry and Art (1987).  Grabbing the last title, I sat on the floor of the Library and dug in. I never noticed how much falconry is portrayed throughout art and really, how early it is shown: 4th-century Etruscan tomb decorations, an 8th-century Mesopotamian stele, and a 13th-century bas-relief in Turkey (pictured below). 

Bas-relief of falconers from the Ruins of Bogazkab (Asiatic Turkey), 13th century. The falconer on the right holds the leash of the bird.

Of course, one of the most familiar images of a falcon is in Egyptian iconography, the god Horus, who was depicted with the body of a man and head of a falcon. Interestingly, no images of a falcon in captivity exist nor is there a hieroglyphic symbol for falconry, which suggests that the sport was not practiced in Egypt. Likewise, there are no images in early Greek or Roman art, possibly for the same reason.

Image of the Egyptian god Horus.

Coinciding with the rise of falconry in the Western Middle Ages was the rise of its depiction in art.  The 11th-century Bayeux Tapestry shows several instances of King Harold with a hawk on his arm. In one, he is presenting it as a gift to William of Normandy.

This scene is after Harold has brought the falcon to William who is shown holding the hawk.

One of the most well-known works in art history is Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (1413-1416), a devotional book, known as a Book of Hours. Amongst the psalms and prayers are calendars, each month alternating between depictions of agricultural and courtly life.  The month of August shows a scene of men on horseback and women seated aside with them, along with a groom in front, carrying raptors on their arms. 

A century or so later, birds of prey were included in The Lady with a Unicorn tapestry series. Dating from the late 15th to early 16th centuries, the six tapestries are thought to be allusions to the five senses with a sixth tapestry whose subject is unknown. Depictions of animals, both real and mythical, are interwoven throughout.

A falcon gently lands on the hand of the woman in the center.

On the other side of the world, falconry was a frequent presence in Eastern culture and, therefore, art. Terracotta figures found in Japanese burial mounds, known as haniwa, include figures of falconers. The one depicted below is from the Kofun Period (c. 250–c. 600 CE). These were life size and placed on top of graves.

A 16th-century drawing, Mirza Ali Haft Awrang of Jami, from a Persian Royal Manuscript shows a falconer with his hawk on the left-gloved hand and an injured duck in his right. The glove he uses looks detailed and contains some of the only remaining color.

From 18th-century India is a Portrait of a rajah, goshawk on fist, currently housed in the Louvre in Paris.  It shows a strong profile view of a man with a falcon perched on his glove, looking back at him.

We continue to see falconry throughout the Western Renaissance and into the 18th and 19th centuries.  As the popularity of the sport ebbs and flows so does its prominence within artistic tradition. So what, then, do we have in the 21st century to represent this ancient sport?  Photographs. Copyright laws prevent me from producing them here, but I invite you to Google “21st-century falconry photography.” Beautiful contemporary images appear of men and women continuing in the tradition of the medieval lords and ladies in Les Tres Riches Heures and the Indian Rajah holding a goshawk.

Falconry has, literally, withstood the test of time, remaining relevant in a modern world. The art produced throughout the centuries proves this. I’m eager to see what will be created next.


Image citations:

Falconers from Ruins of Bogazkab : Christian Antoine de Chamerlat, Falconry and Art, London, Philip Wilson Publishers Ltd, 1987.

Egyptian god Horus: By Jeff Dahl – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3280569Image of the Egyptian god Horus.

Bayeux Tapestry: Britain’s Bayeux Tapestry in Reading. The website has the entire story broken down by scene – certainly worth a click! http://www.bayeuxtapestry.org.uk/bayeux7.htm

Tres Riche Heures: By Limbourg brotheres – R.M.N. / R.-G. Ojedachateaudechantilly.com, Public Domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=108570 . The Book of Hours is currently housed at the Musee Conde outside of Paris, France http://www.domainedechantilly.com/en/accueil/chateau/reading-room/selected-works/

Lady with the Unicorn: Taste: http://tchevalier.com/unicorn/tapestries/taste.html, Public Domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2724262
Currently housed at the Museum of the Middle Ages, Paris, France
https://www.musee-moyenage.fr/collection/oeuvre/la-dame-a-la-licorne.html

Haniwa falconer: https://jref.com/articles/japanese-falconry.217/ . A wonderful resource on Japanese falconry.

Mirza Ali Haft Awrang of Jami: Christian Antoine de Chamerlat, Falconry and Art, London, Philip Wilson Publishers Ltd, 1987.

Portrait of a Rajah, goshawk on fist: Christian Antoine de Chamerlat, Falconry and Art, London, Philip Wilson Publishers Ltd, 1987.


Citations:

Resource on the Bayeux Tapestry: Robin S. Oggins, The Kings and Their Hawks: Falconry in Medieval England. Yale University Press, 2004.

Resource on haniwa: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-asia/art-japan/kofun-period/a/haniwa-warrior

Lauren Kraut is the Collections Manager at the National Sporting Library & Museum. Her primary focus is to maintain and preserve the works of art in the collection and on loan. Email her at lkraut@NationalSporting.org

It’s that time of year when things slow down, ever so slightly.  The spring exhibitions are open and there’s a little breathing room before we need to start devoting all of our energy to the fall exhibition.  This is a great time to catch up on the tasks that have accumulated on my desk.  One of the most important responsibilities in Collections is inventorying: to verify locations and assess the condition of all the works of art in all of our collections.  It sounds daunting, doesn’t it? 

The tools: measuring tape, condition report, flashlight, pencil (always a pencil!), dusting cloth, and the ever-present nitrile gloves. (after) Samuel Howitt (English, 1756-1822), Fox Hunting No. 3, hand-colored aquatint, 18 x 22 3/4 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of George and Susan Matelich and Family, 2016

There are two different types of inventory that we utilize: comprehensive and location.  A comprehensive inventory is just that, an inventory of the permanent, study, and loan collections, complete with thorough condition reports and photographs.  Depending on the size of the museum or gallery and staff resources, this should (ideally) be completed annually.  A location inventory has a smaller scope; it verifies that the accession number on the object matches the record, is in the correct location, and if the condition has changed. This is not as time intensive as a comprehensive inventory and should be completed if a comprehensive inventory isn’t possible.  Because of our staff size, we like to alternate annually between the two.

Recall the condition reports from my February 19, 2019 blog entry on the installation of the Sidesaddle exhibition. The inventory process requires that a condition report is filled out for each object and retained in the object folder. Along with the basic information, like title, artist, medium, and date, I also record a brief description of the object, including any defects, like warping of a canvas or scratches on a frame.  Visuals are always helpful when documenting changes.  I try to take as thorough a reference as possible, highlighting any potential issues that should be tracked.

The oldest work of art in our art collection is A Horse in a Landscape, an oil on panel by Abraham van Calreat (c. 1690).  That’s over three centuries of exposure and changing hands and an expansive time frame for it to be dropped, hung above a fireplace, or placed in direct sunlight.  Part of an inventory is to make note of chipped frames and discoloration which are just two possibilities of the previous three scenarios. Despite its age, A Horse in a Landscape is in very good condition.

Works on paper have other potential concerns such as being susceptible to foxing.  Those are the small brownish spots you might see speckled about in old books or prints. The print below has evidence of foxing on the right border. 

Foxing can be seen most noticeably on the right-side border. Edward Troye (American, 1808-1874), Kentucky, 1867, colored engraving, 24 1/2 x 32 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Peter Winants, 2004

Another example of a noteable paper condition issue is seen in the image on the left below of the 1923 wedding invitation of the artist Paul Desmond Brown (American, 1893-1958) to his wife, Harriet.  The discoloration is easily noticed.  What would have caused this?  Perhaps it was displayed in a frame where, over time, the light caused it to change. 

Invitation to the wedding of Paul Desmond Brown to Harriet Smith, November 12, 1923, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Nancy Searles, the artist’s daughter, 2011

The backside of the paper below has several issues including discoloration, missing elements, accretions, tears, buckling, and flaking.

Verso of paper with envelope affixed to the front, addressed to Harriet Smith, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Nancy Searles, the artist’s daughter, 2011

A comprehensive inventory also serves another purpose. Do the works of art under scrutiny still meet the mission of the organization?  As museums and galleries evolve, their mission statements and policies may need to evolve too.  This could include adjusting the scope of the collection plan, meaning that objects in the collection may be better suited for interpretation at a different institution.  If that is the case, further evaluation is warranted.

An inventory can be a long process, but it serves an important purpose; it is one of the principal aspects of Collections Management.  For now, if you need me, I’ll be in storage, listening to big band music, and plugging away at this year’s inventory.

Lauren Kraut is the Collections Manager at the National Sporting Library & Museum. Her primary focus is to maintain and preserve the works of art in the collection and on loan. Email her at lkraut@NationalSporting.org