Antonio Tempesta, Primitive hunters killing wild dogs, first issued 1598, etching, 98 x 139 mm, Bailieu Library Print Collection, The University of Melbourne, Gift of Dr J. Orde Poynton 1959.

Antonio Tempesta’ Primitive hunters killing wild dogs is a late impression of an etching originally published in Rome in 1598. It was part of a series of 46 hunting scenes, and testifies to the enduring popularity of this series of prints. Although the series is called Primo Libro di Caccie Varie [‘First Book of Various Hunts’], it was the second series on hunting that Tempesta executed. While the first was self-published (in 1595), four further series were handled by professional publishers. The Primo Libro di Caccie Varie was initially printed by Andrea Vaccari, while a second state was issued by Matthias Greuter. All in all, Tempesta produced about 180 etchings of hunts – yet this was only a fraction of his total output. In the span of 40 years he etched no fewer than 1,700 prints, making him one of the most prolific printers of his day. Additionally, at least 800 prints were made after his designs, the Melbourne print amongst them.

Although Tempesta was keen to protect his own inventions through papal privilegio (an early version of copyright), he was not shy to adopt other artists’ designs. Tempesta’s hunting series drew heavily on the designs by his Flemish master, Jan van der Straet, or Giovanni Stradano, as he was known in Florence. In 1561, Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici commissioned Stradano to produce a cycle of forty tapestries with hunting subjects for his villa in Poggio a Caiano. Between 1566 and 1577, twenty-eight of these tapestries were executed after cartoons by Stradano. Soon after the weaving commenced, Stradano began to collaborate with printmakers and publishers in Antwerp to introduce his designs for the hunts to a larger, international clientele.

Stradano’s and Tempesta’s images presented every possible way of hunting many different animals: hares and rabbits, ibex and chamois, wolves and stags, bears, boars and wild bulls, monkeys, elephants, lions and leopards, ducks, quails and ostriches. Classical texts by Pliny, Philostratus, Homer, and Herodotus provided inspiration, as did more recent treatises on the hunt by Gaston Phébus (1387-89) and Domenico Boccamazza (1548). This resulted in a mix of antique and contemporary hunts from Europe, Asia, and the Americas. As these series progressed, more and more ‘exotic’ hunts were included: of the 46 prints in Tempesta’s Primo Libro di Caccie Varie, 17 showed non-European hunts.

The scene of Primitive hunters killing wild dogs, as it is known, does not appear in any of Stradano’s series and it is not immediately clear what kind of hunt Tempesta has depicted. Instead of wild dogs, the medium-sized, hoofed animal with elongated necks hunted by Native Americans on horseback should probably be identified with what the Spanish conquistadors called a ‘Peruvian sheep’. This term covered four different kinds of camelids: domesticated llamas and alpacas, and wild vicuñas and guanacos. The artist could have seen a llama in Florence; in May, 1572, Cosimo I de’ Medici sent an ‘Indian sheep’, together with parrots and long-tailed monkeys, as a diplomatic gift to Albrecht V, Duke of Bavaria. Based on the visual evidence, however, Antonio did not see a live animal but mainly worked from written sources.

One of these might have been Antonio Pigafetta’s journal of his voyage around the world with Magellan (first printed in Venice in 1536), in which a Patagonian guanaco was portrayed for the first time. Pigafetta described the guanaco as a ‘beast’ with a ‘head and ears of the size of a mule, and the neck and body of the fashion of the camel, the legs of a deer, and the tail like that of a horse, and it neighs like a horse’, not dissimilar to Tempesta’s illustration.

Although hunting is usually described as a privileged leisure pursuit of princes and aristocracy, Stradano and Tempesta did not limit their series to the aristocratic hunt but provided a truly encyclopaedic overview of the chase, including the hunt of ‘lesser’ animals (not deemed worthy of hunting by the aristocracy) or methods other than the par force hunting the aristocracy used. The series invite the viewer/collector to compare the hunting habits of different social classes, of different animals, of different techniques, of antique with contemporary, or European with Asian or American hunting. The emphasis is on human inventiveness and ingenuity in the capture and killing of animals, pitching men against nature. Thus, despite the ‘otherness’ of the indigenous hunters, the inclusion of such prints in the series implies a kinship between the hunters of Europe, Asia, and the Americas.

Further reading:

Alessandra Baroni and Manfred Sellink, Stradanus, 1523-1605. Court Artist of the Medici (Turnhout: Brepols, 2012).

Michael Bury, ‘Antonio Tempesta as a Printmaker: Invention, Drawing, and Technique’, in Drawing 1400-1600. Invention and Innovation, ed. Stuart Carrie (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998) 189-205.

Detlef Heikamp, Mexico and the Medici (Florence: Editrice Edam, 1972).

Eckhard Leuschner, ‘Censorship and the Market. Antonio Tempesta’s “New” Subjects in the Context of Roman Printmaking ca. 1600’, in The Art Market in Italy: 15th-17th centuries, eds. Marcello Fantoni, Louisa C. Matthew and Sara F. Matthews-Grieco (Modena: Panini, 2003), 65-73.

Arvi Wattel, University of Western Australia