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Sources: The Hunt Book of Gaston Phoebus (MS. Français 616)

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Hunt Book of Gaston Phoebus

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Gaston II, count of Foix, wrote his "Book of Hunting" in the second half of the 14th century however the manuscript this illustration is taken from is from the early 15th century. Still, a fairly narrow time-range between the intent and representation. The scene represents the pre-hunt meal and is described thus (in translation):

"On the eve of the chosen day, the nobleman gathers his hunters, assistants, grooms, and pages. He assigns an area to each which must be searched at daybreak before the hunt starts. He determines the meeting point, which is, if possible, in a shaded field near running water.

"On the morning of the next day, the hunters gather round the master for instructions, while the servants spread tablecloths on the grass, where drink and food are served. The fresh air no doubt sharpens the appetite, but before the meal starts, the master listens to the scounts' reports, examines the droppings brought to him and decides which are those of the stag to be hunted. After the meal, he gives the order for the hunt to begin in a concert of horns, neighing, and barking."



Social segregation -- the lord eats alone at what appears to be a table (our cues are that he's in a seated posture and his attendants are standing and the tablecloth "breaks" abruptly to fall downwards -- there's no table actually visible) while the ordinary huntsmen sit, kneel, or sprawl out around tablecloths spread on the ground (although the perspective gets a bit odd in places).

As noted in the text, they are near running water, which is being used to cool drinking vessels (as well as to water the dogs -- which may be the more important reason).

The dogs are hanging out by the stream -- either drinking or watching the huntsmen (one imagines they're waiting for scraps). You can tell this is a planned picnic spot becasue in addition to the location by the stream (complete with a stone spring-house), there is a wicker-work pen for the horses.


In addition to the two huntsmen who are showing the lord handfuls of deer droppings (as noted in the text), there is a server (complete with towel draped properly over his shoulder!) bringing dishes to the table.

The huntsmen are helping themselves to the dishes rather than being served.

Nobody appears to have personal dishes (plates or bowls) and there's no sign of bread trenchers.


The food appears to be relatively similar on the high table and on the huntsmen's spreads, although not all the dishes are identifiable. One difference is that the lord is in the process of being served a standing pie while the huntsmen have no similar dish. The table also features a footed bowl with unidentifiable contents.

Here are the various dishes that can be seen:

Bread rolls

These are present on each cloth. I'm guessing a little about them being bread rolls. Several of them have a sort of "wrapped around" appearance, almost like a modern crescent roll.

bread rolls

bread rolls.bread rolls

Bread Loaf???

I'm far less certain of the identity of these items. In particular, in the third picture, the item on the left may simply be a bowl with some dish in it, and the other two objects have an almost "sliced" appearance.

bread loaf.bread loaf. bread loaf

Whole Roast Chicken

Every cloth has a whole roast chicken -- and the lord has two (even though he appears to be dining alone). I suppose they may be some other bird, but they look very chicken-like. Three of the chickens are served in shallow bowls. The fourth appears to be on a plate and is in the process of being torn to pieces by hand by one of the huntsmen.

chicken chicken chicken chicken

Raised Pie

A server is in the process of bringing a raised pie to the lord's table. (Presumably he is about to open it and serve from it.) The pie is served on a plate. Ok, so the identification as a pie is not entirely certain, but I have a relatively high level of confidence.

raised pie


One of the huntsmen in using his knife to cut up some unidentified object on a plate.


Unidentified dish

The lord's table has a footed bowl with some unidentifiable dish in it. I suppose it's possible that it's the same dish that is being served in regular bowls to the huntsmen.

footed bowl

Bowl and Spoons

A group of three huntsmen all appear to be eating with spoons and there is a bowl with an additional spoon stuck in it between them.

eating with spoons


Only one huntsman appears to be drinking from a cup (based on the way it's being held).


The others who are seen drinking are drinking directly from costrels -- a sort of barrel-shaped canteen with an opening in the middle of one side. These would normally be made from leather, although there are also ceramic ones.

drinking drinking

Another costrel sits at the side of a group of huntsmen.


In a small structure housing the spring, other drink containers are being cooled. There are two metallic-looking pitchers (possibly for the lord's table?) and a ceramic-looking flask with a medium-long neck, hanging by a strap from a hook set into the spring-house, presumably for that purpose.


Bise, Gabriel. 1978. Illuminated Manuscripts: Medieval Hunting Scenes. Miller Graphics.

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