|South German School, A Fox-Tossing Match With Elegant Company Spectating. 18th Century, oil on canvas. Christie's, London. Old Master Pictures. October 29, 1999. [auction catalog].|
To begin, you need a number of foxes. They would be caught and kept in small boxes. Then in a field, an area would be enclosed with thick canvas. This was a sport that court ladies took a large part in, (yes ladies could play!) and it requires teams of two. Sometimes two ladies would team up and sometimes couples would be a team. Teams that were made up of couples had the tendency to be very competitive with their husband and wife rivals.
|Detail from A Fox-Tossing Match With Elegant Company Spectating|
The panicked creatures would spring from their dark box, into the sun and surrounded by the noisy onlookers. They ran between the team mates leaping over the canvas slings which lay on the ground. This was a sport of skill and coordination. At just the right moment, as a fox leaped over the canvas sling, both team members needed to give a great tug on their end, tightening the sling between them, and if done properly catching the fox at the right moment so it was propelled upwards into the air.
|Adolf Van Der Laan (1684/90-1742/55), Fox tossing: Elegante Dwarfs Playing in a Garden on the Occasion. 18th century, ink (grey), grey wash, pen, pencil/paper. Christie's, Amsterdam. Old Master Drawings. November 10, 1999. p. 58 [auction catalog].|
With enough practice you could toss a fox quite high, a team of men could get a fox up to twenty five feet in the air. (over 7.6 meters!)
"'At the Saxon court, which was then the most pleasure-loving in Germany, Elector Frederick Augustus....was the first to introduce this amusement. This monarch, while mentally one of the most vacillating of rulers, was physically one of the strongest men of any age...It was he...who introduced heavier animals, such as two-year-old wild boars and even wolves. At a famous fox-tossing in Dresden there were tossed 687 foxes, 533 hares, 34 badgers, 21 wild cats, and at the end 34 young wild boars and 3 wolves were turned into the enclosure "to the great delectation of the cavaliers, but to the terror of the noble ladies, among whose hoop-skirts the wild boars committed great havoc, to the endless mirth of the assembled company". That injuries on such occasions were not infrequent need hardly be mentioned, and more than one young tosser was marked for life by the claws of a wild cat or the tusks of a young boar."¹The sport later morphed, and ladies and gentlemen dressed up in masquerade like clothing to participate. Even the foxes were dressed in costume, with tinsel and fabric. Some were disguised as unpopular persons of the time. After these elaborate games (or would you say shows?) the members of the court would have a masquerade ball or extravagant play. Quite the sporting experience.
¹Christie's, London. Old Master Pictures. October 29, 1999. [auction catalog].