Animals > Pigs
This 17th-century oak panel is one from a series recounting the parable of The Prodigal Son, told to teach the virtues of repentance and forgiveness. A man with two sons divided his estate between them. The elder son worked hard on the home estate while the younger took the money and squandered it in riotous living. Finally reduced to poverty, he returns home penitent to his father who welcomes him, while his brother stands by outraged until he too is taught to forgive.
This was a popular subject in painting, stained glass and wood. The series usually shows the prodigal son taking leave of his parents, proudly riding off on horseback, wealthily attired; feasting in an inn with harlots and general merrymaking; having slops poured over his head at the inn when his money has run out; the panel here illustrated shows the next scene where the son has had to get work as a swine-herd, the most despised of occupations. Now at the beck and call of a well-dressed rival landowner, his own fine clothes gone, he kneels at the trough with the pigs, so hungry that “he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat.” This experience leads him to repent and return home.
This panel shows the critical moment when the hunter is ready to strike with his spear as one of his dogs – an alaunt – bites into the boar in an attempt to bring it down. The man, animals and trees are carved in high relief while the background foliage is scratch-carved.
The man is clothed rather casually for such a dangerous encounter but he holds his spear at the correct level and is standing one foot in front of the other and leaning forward in the approved manner. It is imperative not to let the boar charge at both legs. The huntsman should keep one hand forward on the spear at waist height and the other further back to aim the spear. This hunter has one hand too close to the end of the spear as if the boar is not killed outright it will have the chance to maul his hand.
The boar is ferocious, fearless, unmoved by pain and capable of killing a dog, horse or man with one stroke. It could split a man from knee to chest with a tusk and was greatly feared by hunters and dogs alike. It has two sets of tusks (canine teeth), the upper being 8–10 cms long, the lower 20–23 cms. In the hunt, however, it was admired for its bravery and stamina which inspired the huntsmen to try to match it for courage. It would maim many of the dogs during the hunt so more had to be kept in reserve for the final kill.
In art the boar hunt is usually shown as an illustration of a rural pursuit or to demonstrate the courage of the huntsman.