Friday, 8 December 2017

How Zarafa,

took Paris by storm,

 in 1825, a baby giraffe was taken from her mother and shipped by camel, ship, and on foot to Paris as a gift from the Ottoman viceroy of Egypt to King Charles X, She was called “la Belle Africaine” or “la girafe,” and has since been called Zarafa, which is the Arabic word from which we derive the word "giraffe." Zarafa soon made her mark on art, a rise in the popularity of animal sculpture by artists like Antoine-Louis Barye was partly inspired by observing Zarafa and the other newly arrived creatures at the Jardin des Plantes, Nicolas Hüet, the official painter for the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle at the Paris menagerie, perhaps captured Zarafa most beautifully in luminous watercolor, with a groom resting alongside her, as it happens most pictures of her have a groom in attendance to give the viewer a real impression of the size of Zarafa,

 Her arrival caused a sensation across the country, and fashion turned to giraffe-mania as the French used giraffe imagery for everything from hair styles to wallpaper, along with inspiring some eccentric fashion, and a whole host of commemorative porcelain, accessoriescombs, soap, and fans,
 above a woman styled “à la girafe,” from The Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions &c. Third Series, Volume 10,

 the giraffomania fashion faded by 1830, and the reign of Charles X likewise ended that July, in a rebellion immortalized in Eugène Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People.” but Zarafa lived until 1845, after which, like so many animals that have been claimed, controlled, and used by humans, she was taxidermied, She is still on view at the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle de La Rochelle,

above “A female giraffe is led by two men in oriental dress” (1827), lithograph after André Prévost, courtesy Wellcome Collection, for the full story of Zarafa have a read of Michael Allin’s thorough and engaging 1999 book Zarafa: A Giraffe’s True Story, from Deep in Africa to the Heart of Paris. “Giraffe, girafe, giraffa (English, French, Italian), all derive from the Arabic zerafa, a phonetic variant of zarafa, which means ‘charming’ or ‘lovely one,'” Allin explains in the book, in her lifetime from 1825 to 1845 she was called “la Belle Africaine” (“the Beautiful African”), or simply “la girafe,” being that there were no others, what a fascinating read.

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