Qualche riflessione sul Falconiere nel Museo dell'Opera del Duomo di Ravello

Author: Anna Maria D'Achille

Some reflections about the Falconer in the Opera Museum of Ravello’s Cathedral

This essay is focused on the so-called Falconer, currently kept in the Opera Museum of Ravello’s cathedral. That is a high relief dating from Frederick II’s age, made in just one marble block, which depicts a young man holding a falcon in the left hand and its hood in the right one or, more probably, the tiratorio, i.e. a piece of flesh the bird could attack. On the side, there is a dog that is biting its prey.
The chronology of the artwork is clear, but its subject and its provenance are a real ‘brainteaser’.
Moreover, the question of the original location of the sculpture – said to be in the church of S. Giovanni del Toro by an inventory of 1811 – is strictly linked to its significance.
At first, we can rule out the possibility it portrays Frederick II or his son Manfred, both for the shape of the crown – too ‘modest’ to be interpreted as a power attribute – and especially for the kind of the character representation: as we know, they totally differ from the usual imperial portraits of Frederick II’s times. Therefore, we take under consideration the fact it could be a fragment of the cycle of the Months (it would be the figure of May) or of the Ages of man (it would be the adolescence), or it could have formed part of a funerary monument. Any­way, in all the examples referring to these typologies, the dog (if present) is never depicted in such a lively action like in this relief.
In Arthurian novels and troubadour literature the hawk is the lover attribute: in late Medieval ivories, subjects such as the Cavalcade of the lovers and the Love meeting – where the animal (in the hands of one of the lovers or of both) is an almost constant presence – appear very frequently. So, the high relief of Ravello is interpreted as a Minneallegorie (that is, as an allegory of courtly love) and consequently it can be linked to a profane context, maybe a fountain or a noble residence.
The analysis of the sculpture making provides further information. In fact, the incline of the feet and the trajectory of the look allow to determine the hypothetical point of view and to claim that the relief had to be set at a height of m 1.80 from the ground. We also underscore that the slab does not have a homogeneous thickness, being deeper on the left side where the figure is almost an all-round one: this testifies it was perfectly visible from that side. On the right hand, the situation looks completely different, instead: there, because of a subtler thickness, the relief gets lower and lower as the sculpted surface turns around the corner. This last detail clearly shows the piece is not the fragment of a larger slab.
Finally, because of the shape of the slab and of the sculpting of the figure, it is more plausible the piece came from a palace than from a fountain.