On a visit to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, my first in some years and to be one of many during the course, I took time out to visit the temporary Exhibition – Islam and Florence and bumped into my first giraffe – stuffed!
As I was about to take a photo, the staff leapt on me to say “No photos allowed” but to not leave you disappointed ‘this official video’ has captured the giraffe together with many of the fabulous objects on display.
‘The Mamluk Sultan of Egypt, probably not unaware that a “camelopard” had taken part in Julius Caesar’s triumph in Rome, sent a giraffe as a gift to Lorenzo the Magnificent, which made a spectacular entry into Piazza della Signoria on 18 November 1487. The exotic beast is reported to have been so greatly admired and to have caused such a sensation that even the cloistered nuns were eager to see it. As portrayed in the affresco of Giorgio Vasari in palazzo Vecchio. Unfortunately the giraffe did not last long, breaking its neck in an accident in the stable specially built for it on 2 January, the following year.
The second giraffe, also stuffed, came as a gift from Egypt in 1835, to Leopoldo II and lived in the Boboli gardens for about a year and a half.’ (Uffizi brochure). The photo above of the affresco shows a mixed reaction amongst the locals and one can only imagine their astonishment at seeing a giraffe in the piazza…..even today! The giraffes sadly came to a sorry end.
Various generations of Medici‘s, from Lorenzo the Magnificent to the Grand Duke Cosimo I were known to be lovers of the exotic and major collectors of precious items from the Orient together with other private collectors and antiquarians. The exhibition was split between the Uffizi Gallery and the Bargello museum with a stunning range of exquisite carpets, gilded containers, magnificent jewelled ornaments and arms and delicately carved ivory chests. All beautifully displayed before a background of a thousand and one Oriental stars under soft lighting. ( This photo taken from the brochure does not do them justice).
In amongst the exhibits were also some paintings, indicating how much this exchange of culture influenced artists at the time. A period when Florence was powerful; economically, politically and culturally. A city of rich bankers and merchants ‘wheeling and dealing’ with the world and wanting to boast about their wealth and perhaps, book a place in paradise by commissioning works of art like this one.
Palla Strozzi, the richest banker of Florence commissioned Gentile da Fabriano to do ‘The Adoration of the Magi’ (1423) a theme often repeated, as many, including the Medici, identified themselves as ‘the Magi‘ of the time! Heavily dosed with gold and sumptuous costumes in a luxurious ambience with some cheeky non religious details – the page kneeling to remove the spurs, monkeys playing and Palla Strozzi and his father prominently featured in the red hat and with a falcon!
To show the Islamic influence you need to zoom in on the aureole to see Arabic scripts embossed in the gold.
In class we were told that the Roman elite delighted in eating exotic animals at their banquets, giraffes and zebras included….Possibly even the one in Julius Cesare’s triumphal return?
The ‘Adoration of the Magi’ by
Domenico Ghirlandaio (right 1482-90)) and ‘Procession of Three Kings‘ by Andrea del Sarto (left 1510-11) show in the background, yet another giraffe as part of the procession. The fascination with these leopard style camels continues….!
As seen in the video, the exhibition had an eclectic mix, making a fascinating tour of past splendours and confirmation of the appreciation, consideration and integration of Islamic culture.
And to keep the kids interested the Uffizi provide a quiz and games of which I have stolen just a couple of examples which I thought you might like to try: Fit the colour to the country and …….how could I go past this join the dots!
So enjoy yourselves!