The Beginning of Horse Breeding: Hippica by Krzysztof Monwid Dorohostajski, the Bestseller of the 17th Century - Orbis Lituaniae

The Beginning of Horse Breeding: Hippica by Krzysztof Monwid Dorohostajski, the Bestseller of the 17th Century

Impressive career and unhappy family life

For many years, horses were the most popular domestic animals among the nobility of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Horses were part of everyday life for any aristocrat. Horses became particularly important due to their role in military actions. In addition to that, horses were the main means of travel and transportation. Peasants, however, still harnessed oxen for ploughing. In the Baroque era, Krzysztof Monwid Dorohostajski (1562–1615), the magnate from the GDL, published his Hippica or the Book about Horses, the first book dedicated to horses that remained the only work on horse breeding in the GDL for more than 250 years and was released before the first medical books. It was only after the opening of the first veterinary school in Vilnius in 1823 that other works in hippology (Greek: hippos – a horse) have been printed.

Dorohostajski has been acclaimed in many areas. In the calendar of his political career we see that he was granted the title of the Pantler of the GDL in 1588 and was promoted to the Grand Marshall of the GDL in 1598. In his early adulthood, he took part in the Livonian War and was a commander of the Lithuanian unit in the campaigns against Sweden in 1601–1602. He took part in the siege of Smolensk during the war with Muscovy in 1610–1611. He was one of the leaders of the Protestant movement in the GDL in the early 17th century. Under the pressure from the royal court, he embarked on the pilgrimage to Czestochowa in 1597 but did not convert to Catholicism. He supported financially churches of Evangelical Reformists in his estates and had a printing facility in Muravanaya Ashmyanka. His family life was unhappy. Both of his wives, daughter of the castellan of Vilnius Zofia Chodkiewiczowna and daughter of the palatine of Navahrudak Zofia Radziwiłłowna, were suspected in infidelity. The romance between Radvilaitė and a poor noble Stanisław Tymiński became public through a scandal and only the influence of the Radziwiłł family has helped to prevent a divorce.

Interest in equestrianism arose in Italy

Dorohostajski left a trace in history because of his “lifetime work”, the popular book about horses.

Hippica earned him a place in the memory of future generations. Dorohostajski was interested in horses since his young years. While travelling in Italy, he became acquainted with Europe’s best specialists of horse breeding of the time. In the courts of Ferrara, Bologna and Naples he studied the principles of the leading Italian school of riding. Great masters, such as Claudio Corte and Pietro Antonio Ferrara, the master of the horse of the viceroy of Naples, were his riding instructors. It was Pietro Antonio Ferrara who encouraged him to write a book about horses. After returning to Lithuania, Dorohostajski also hired best Italian specialists in horse breeding.

Dorohostajski mentioned a roughrider Hieronymus Malatesta in his will as one of his four top earning courtiers and bequethed him 500 złotys.

Dorohostajski has read plenty of special literature and found it very useful. In Italy, first books on horse keeping were written back in the 13th century. Dorohostajski was particularly impressed by the illustrated atlas of horse anatomy published in 1598 by a Bolognese senator Carlo Ruino.

Dorohostajski also wrote about horses as the title of his book, Hippica, suggests. He referred to earlier literature related to horse keeping and breeding, including works of ancient Greek and Roman authors and later books by Czech, French and Italian specialists. He also occasionally referred to Tatar and Turkish sources and mentioned English, Hungarian and Persian authors in several instances. Dorohostajski used materials from works by 14 different authors and also included examples from his own stables in Ashmiany and the stables of the Radziwiłł family.

The famous co-authors of the book

Horse expert Mikołaj Krzysztof Radziwiłł the Orphan, who was the duke of Nyasvizh and Olyka, contributed to the book by adding his remarks. He also hired top-class horse keepers from Italy for his estate and searched for them abroad. For instance, Walenty Strzelec hired in 1599 for three years a horse-riding specialist from Arigona whose instructor was “the great Gian Maria”. Radziwiłł the Orphan was behind the idea of replacing some of Latin terms with the Polish ones in the book.

In 1602, Tomasz Makowski from Podlachia, the author of the 1613 map of the GDL, illustrated the Hippica in the estate in Nesvizh with 45 engravings of which 24 feature horses in various landscapes.

The images of the horses are very realistic indicating that the artist knew their anatomy well. Although created after the original images by Makowski, illustrations were less ornate in later editions of the Hippica, which featured woodcuts rather than copper-plate prints. In return for the excellent artistic job, Dorohostajski became Makowski’s patron.

Medical precision and “artistic streak”

The first sumptuous edition of the Hippica dedicated to king Sigismund III Vasa was printed in 1603 by Andrzej Piotrkowczyk in Krakow. That was a four-part book. Every part begins with a preface, while the third and fourth parts also have “endings.” The author starts with the description of the anatomy of the horse and describes its physiology before outlining their breeds, qualities and the principles of horse keeping and breeding. The first part of the book is about training, rough riding and riding. The third part is dedicated to saddlery and provides examples of the different gear used in various countries. The fourth part is about the veterinary. Here the author describes horse diseases, medicines and their use, and healing methods. Dorohostajski was a rare example of a magnate of that time who was a professional in both veterinary and medicine. He graduated from Freiburg University as a doctor in medicine.

Hippica is a comprehensive work that shows author’s high professional knowledge. The text is interesting to read because it features quotes from Virgil and humoristic notes by Dorohostajski. When writing about a low quality muzzle at the end of the third part, he says: “Here I speak about horse muzzle, and I write nothing about treacherous faces of foul-mouthed people since they are sometimes hard to rein in even by a club or a big fist.”

A horse traded for the book on horses

Hippica became the most popular work on horse keeping in the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth. People appreciated the book and many wanted to buy it, although the price was quite high. For instance, the cover of the book printed in 1620 bears an inscription that the owner of the book has paid four złotys for it. The palatine of Masovia Stanisław Chomętowski exchanged one of his horses for the book. After all the first edition has been sold out, publisher Piotr Blastus Kmita printed out in 1617 and 1627 in Lubcha two special editions of the work, the compendia of the Hippica. During 250 years since the release of the first edition of the book, Dorohostaiski’s Hippica enjoyed five later editions. The book was translated into Russian in 1685. Hippica is an important part of the cultural and historical heritage of the GDL and the work which reveals the traditions of horse keeping and breeding in Lithuania and Europe in the 16th and early 17th century. The book is available for today’s readers as well. In 1979, the photographed edition of the first Hippica (1603) was printed in Warsaw. The book has “returned” to Lithuania as well. Anyone wishing to see how that book looked like 400 years ago should simply open its translation into Lithuanian published in 2008.

Literature: Kristupas Mikalojus Manvydas Dorohostaiskis. „Hipika, arba Knyga apie arklius“. Iš lenkų k. vertė A. Baravykaitė, leidykla „Saulės delta“, 2008.

Raimonda Ragauskienė