Humans, Nature and Birds                    

Science Art from Cave Walls to Computer Screens        





Portrait of Robert Cheseman, 1533, by Hans Holbein the Younger
23 ¼ x 24 3/5 in. (59 x 62.5 cm)
Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague. After restoration, 2004.Copyrights are vested in the Friends of the Mauritshuis Foundation–The Hague–Holland.

© 2008 Darryl Wheye and Donald Kennedy

By convention falconry, the 4,000-year old sport of kings, paired social rank with a particular species of bird to train: The king had his Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus), while the squire–that is Cheseman’s apparent rank–had his Lanner Falcon (F. biarmicus). The Latin lettering in the background identifies the falconer, his age, and the date. Repeatedly, contemporary authors misidentify Cheseman as Henry's personal falconer and misidentify the bird as a Gyrfalcon (the telltale, buff-colored feathers on the back of the head distinguish this falcon as a Lanner.)

Of the 1,000 or so books on falconry, Emperor Frederick II’s, The Art of Falconry, (c. 1248), was the first to record detailed observations and life histories. It also records a natural world rich in wildlife and a society seemingly on the verge of taking closer notice: “The pursuit of falconry” Frederick II advised, “enables nobles and rulers disturbed and worried by the cares of state to find relief in the pleasures of the chase. The poor, as well as the less noble, [minor nobility] by following this avocation may earn some of the necessities of life; and both classes will find in bird life attractive manifestations of the processes of nature. The whole subject of falconry falls within the realm of natural science, for it deals with the nature of bird life.”