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Simon Doubleday

Hunting scene

Hunting occupied a central place in Alfonso’s world: for most medieval people, it was a vital source of food, but for the social elite it was also a status symbol. The hart, the wild boar, and the bear were considered particularly noble quarry. Hounds, such as those we see here, were highly prized by the social elite, and were sometimes offered as gifts.

Characteristically, the Wise King emphasized the activity as a source of happiness. Hunting, he wrote, “contributes much to diminish serious thoughts and vexations, and is more necessary for a king than for any other man”. When it is done in moderation, he added, it “causes a man to eat and sleep well, which is the principal thing in life. The pleasure derived from it is, moreover, a great source of joy.”

But in Alfonso’s mind, hunting was associated with the figure of Frederick II, the former Holy Roman Emperor who had been deposed in 1245 and who had translated the Arabic Kitab al-Jawarih [Book of Hunting Animals]. The king was determined to become Frederick’s successor, and his hunt for the imperial throne became an obsession.