Artibus et Historiae no. 23 (XII)

1991, ISSN 0391-9064

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CHARLES D. CUTTLER - Exotics in Post-Medieval European Art: Giraffes and Centaurs

Prior to the fifteenth century, little was known in Europe about the wild animals of the rest of the world; only five elephants had been seen since Charlemagne's time, and there were no tigers before 1475. Bestiaries filled the gap, mixing fact and fancy. About 1410, a more or less accurately depicted giraffe appeared with a Centaur in Jean de Berry's Belles Heures, in which such exotic elements may have been derived from Byzantine models. Cyriacus of Ancona's exotic animal drawings of c. 1433 influenced Bosch, but it was Reuwich's woodcut illustration of a giraffe in 1486, and engravings and woodcuts inspired by a giraffe given to Lorenzo de' Medici in 1487, which were the models for subsequent renderings until the natural history studies of the last decades of the eighteenth century, and the arrival, in the 1820s, of giraffes at the courts of European monarchs. In the artistic representations of the animal before that, its form varies, but the Centaur was unverifiable and thus its depiction remained unchanged.

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