In our latest blogpost we consider the story of The Monstrous Pig of Landser and the King's Camelopard - some of the curious beasts featured in this beautiful collection of animal prints from The British Museum (available at Museum Bookstore for £9.99)
The Monstrous Pig of Landser
Early in 1496, a 'monstrous' pig was born. The poor creature reportedly had two bodies, one head, two tongues, eight legs and another set of legs protruding upwards from its back and did not live long.
But according to the author of Curious Beasts, Alison Wright:
'Its fame spread far beyond its small village with the production of printed broadsides with simple woodcut illustrations and long moral texts, indulging the public’s curiosity and dread about what it signified. Birth abnormalities (‘monstrous births’) were often interpreted in the early modern period as portents or bad omens...Dürer..characteristically fascinated by the variety of animal form, made this investigative engraving of what such a creature would like, informed by his own studies of pigs. In the background, the castle and Landser locates the "monster" in a solid, verifiable setting, persuading the viewer to accept its unlikely appearance – and perhaps, to speculate on the doom about to visit the inhabitants.'.
The King's Camelopard
In 1827, the pasha of Egypt sent a Camelopard or what we today call a giraffe to King George IV. It was the first time that a live giraffe had been seen in Europe in over three centuries. It was presented to the king at Windsor on 13 August and was the talk of the nation. Lord Maryborough wrote the following day: 'everybody was so much engrossed by talking of the camelopard who has just arrived, that nothing else seemed to be thought of'.
In addition to artistic and scientific renderings of the camel, like the satirical print by William Heath above, Britain experienced ‘giraffemania’, with everything from candlesticks, printed fabrics and ceramics inspired by George IV’s giraffe (a phenomenon that was replicated in both France and Austria). Fashionable magazines promoted interior designs using giraffe-based colours and patterns. Women wore their hair à la girafe, piled up high.
From the beginning, there was trouble. An artist commissioned to paint the giraffe’s portrait noticed that the animal had injuries on its lower limbs. Investigation revealed that these injuries were caused, on part of the giraffe's journey from Senaar to Cairo, when she was borne on the back of a camel with her legs were lashed together under the camel’s body.
After just two years at Windsor Castle, the giraffe became debilitated from those early wounds and exercise became painful and hard. In order to keep her moving, the Royal Household constructed a gigantic triangle on wheels in which 'the creature was somehow secured each day and trundled round her paddock, the hooves just touching the ground'.
The giraffe died in early October 1829. The talented young taxidermist John Gould undertook her dissection. It had been George’s intention to donate the stuffed giraffe and her skeleton to the people, the newspapers reported, and his successor William IV formally presented both skin and bones to the Zoological Society of London’s museum in August 1830.
There the giraffe remained until 1855, when the museum closed. The pathologist Mr Crisp purchased the skin, but then the trail goes cold. The current whereabouts of George IV’s giraffe, if indeed her remains have survived, are not known.