While roaming the streets of Paris last month, Patrice discovered an obscure but delightful museum: Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature
Loosely translated, a museum of hunting and hunting art.
So here is my brief history of hunting:
Get a sharp stick and chase something down and hope it doesn’t kill you before you kill it. Better yet, get a dog to do the chasing, and if it is a big dog, maybe it can dispatch the prey at the same time, saving the hunter the aggravation of being mauled and ending up on the wrong end of the food chain. So somewhere between the time of the caveman and the invention of agriculture, hunting with dogs became the best way to stay fed and stay alive.
Documenting this symbiotic relationship with dogs in art is a mark of civilization. This museum is a testament about this relationship as much as is about hunting. The galleries are filled with hundreds of world-class paintings and sculptures depicting our appreciation for canine hunting partners.
This first painting is an example of hunting boar with a sharp stick, at the expense of the dogs and one hunter. Big dogs, bigger boar.
For those of you who are classical scholars, you may recognize this as the Calydonian Boar of Greek mythology. Here is another woodcut from the 16th century, also depicting the Calydonian Boar being hunted with dogs and sharp sticks.
If you had the financial resources to outfit your pack, you could have special dog armour woven out of horse hair, a precursor to bullet-proof vests. Light enough to wear, flexible enough to run and hunt in. This detail from a vintage tapestry shows a hound with both head and neck protection, plus a bit of body armour. Notice the section of the hunter running behind the dog with a sharp stick.
In 1620, Isabelle of Habsburg, regent of the Netherlands, commissioned a couple of local painters to glorify her pack of hunting dogs. Peter Paul Reubens and Jan Brueghel worked up this nice painting of Isabelle’s pups with the goddess Diana thrown in for some art history credibility. Check out the little naked dog handler with wings. He has a couple of hounds on leashes with the latest in horse-hair technology, hopefully keeping them boar-proof.
Hunting wolves was not without its challenges, too. Usually, if you had more dogs than wolves, then you could win with numbers.
But wolves bite back.
Wolves, like dogs, prefer to go for the throat. Rather than encumber your pack with body armour as in hunting boar or stags, one only needed to protect the neck of your favorite wolf-hunting dog. In this display case, we found a great skull of a wolf and the corresponding collar for the hunting dog. No other explanation is required.
But not all hunting was for dangerous game. It was discovered that the wily pheasant or partridge could be brought to the table with the aid of a flushing dog. Once people had reasonable firearms loaded with gravel or shot, a whole new sport evolved. (The existence of such sport is the excuse to post this to the blog.) Of course, having such resources usually was the province of upper class. Adding in a nice pack of dedicated spaniels, game keepers, and shooters led to the sport of kings.
Louis XIV had some nice flushing spaniels that he deemed worthy of a large painting. (Wouldn’t this look good over your fireplace in Versailles?)
While the artist Christophe Huet thought that the picture below might just have made a nice composition with a dramatic action sequence, what he was actually recording was a dog that was not steady to the flush. This image set dog training back by a couple of hundred years.
And speaking of documenting poor dog training, check out this bad girl.
The Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature is loaded with remarkable art, taxidermy, weapons (pointed sticks to shotguns), hunting horns, duck calls, and artifacts that all relate to hunting, albeit from a wealthy European’s perspective. But that’s not all.
Sitting quietly in an upholstered chair off in the corner on one of galleries was this snoozing fox. Everyone could use a dead fox on their furniture. Notice that there is no cat hair on this chair and the upholstery is still in great shape.
And not all exhibits were dog oriented. Here is Patrice, checking out another hunting artifact, free-standing in a gallery of bird art.
Paris is mostly about good food, wine, and art. Even so, we did manage to find this one dog-oriented activity to make our vacation well-rounded and balanced.