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Friday, September 15, 2017

Giraffe Art

Giraffes Drinking, 1998, Johan Hoekstra
Giraffe, Alan M. Hunt.
(What you lookin' at?)
It's always gratifying to find an art topic or area of content that is popular with those who follow my pontificating dissertations. Re-cently, my series on individual types of wildlife has garnered the highest levels of readership I've ever seen. I've done items on zebras, tigers, elephants, and an all-inclusive zoo art. Today we look at giraffe art. In discussing elephants I recited the old parable of the blind men describing the massive beast based solely on touching it. If they were to do the same with a giraffe, they might describe it as a deer based on its body, an ox based upon its tail, the forehead of a wolf, the hoofs of a cow, and a fleshy horn like a unicorn. The neck would likely defy comparison to any animal in existence. The whole creature looks as if it were put together by committee.
Giraffes have served as diplomatic “gifts” for thousands of years, not unlike the “giant panda” diplomacy that China conducted with the United States in the 1970s. Part of their appeal has been the sheer unlikelihood of such an strangely proportioned animal even existing. Even today, many people who see giraffes for the first time on a prairie in Africa see only one animal where there are actually several. Giraffes are so unusual they seem to overwhelm the senses. The brain does not know what to do with its input.
Despite the illustration, camels do not lend themselves to
being servants of mankind.

Giraffes, David Stribbling
As natives of Africa, giraffes were known in ancient Egypt, and were often depicted in their wall paintings. Giraffe tails were also presented as tribute to Tutankhamun in the 14th century BC. They were likewise represented in the rock art of the African Bushmen and the Hottentots. In China, a giraffe first appeared in the early 15th century, captured when the Chinese fleet visited East Africa. It was presented to the Chinese Emperor Zhu Di, who immediately proclaimed it as a sign of heavenly blessing for his rule. His claim was based on a totally fictitious linkage of the giraffe to the legendary Chinese animal, the quilin. This giraffe was the first of many such tributes in later decades.

How do you describe a giraffe?

In Europe, the first giraffes were brought from Cleopatra’s Egypt by Julius Caesar in 46BC. Caesar’s intentions, however, were neither diplomatic nor philanthropic. The giraffe marched in his triumphal procession while hundreds were later imported for the Circus Games, to be mauled by lions as a public spectacle. The Romans called giraffes “camelopards”, based on the idea that they were related to both a camel and a leopard. Camelopardalis is still used today as its species name. After the fall of the Roman Empire, giraffes were mostly forgotten in much of Europe for the next thousand years. They didn't reappear until the 13th-century in a Sicilian menagerie and in English literature in The Travels of John Mandeville published ca. 1356.
Giorgio Vasari and Marco Marchetti da Faenza, Lorenzo the Magnificent receives the tribute of the Ambassadors (c 1558), Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.
Each giraffe habitat
has its own
distinctive markings.
Most spectacular, however, was the appearance of a tame 16-foot-tall giraffe imported from Cairo to the Italian city of Florence in 1487. The giraffe had been a crucial bargaining chip in tough negotiations between the Egyptian Sultan and the Florentine leader Lorenzo de’ Medici, who had a burning desire to emulate Caesar’s giraffe exploits in order to add to his own power, prestige and mystique. Though it only survived in Florence for a short time, the Medici giraffe, proved to be a sensation, inspiring numerous paintings by artists such as Vasari, da Faenza, and Andrea del Sarto, in his Journey of the Magi in 1511 and The Triumph of Caesar in 1521.

A Giraffe and its closest relatives,
the okapi (pronghorn antelope),
and deer.
The Medici camel proved to be so desirable that it aroused a sur-prising passion in Anne de Beaujeu, daughter of Louis XI, who believed that Lorenzo had promised to pre-sent her with the giraffe. To this day, one of the seventeen neigh-borhoods of nearby Siena is named after the giraffe (the Con-trada della Giraffa). The giraffe was seen by Europeans as a living mythological combination of creatures--a gentle and mysterious sort of horned cam-el whose hump had been straight-ened by stretching its neck, with legs as tall as a man, the cloven hoofs of a cow, markings like a leopard, and its startling, blue-black, snakelike twenty-inch tongue. Of all the animals in the world, the giraffe has the strongest tendency to be homosexual.
Don't be afraid, we're (chomp, chomp, chomp) herbivories.
With such a long and colorful history, its strangely graceful appearance, and a face only a mother giraffe could love, it's little wonder that artists down through the ages, and especially today, have painted their affection for this enigmatic creature. It lends itself quite easily to just about any type and style of painting imaginable. First of all the giraffe is almost overburdened with humor, something of a clown in real life as well as at the hands of painters. Only the ornery primates supersede it in being funny, and then only because it's much easier for us to identify with our nearest DNA neighbor.

Wall decals are a relatively new development in the
fine art of displaying fine art and interior design.
With their colorful markings, peculiar anatomy, and amazing versatility as to poses, as Salvador Dali discovered, giraffes make ideal models and content for virtually any style of art from Surrealism to Expressionism, Cubism, and beyond. Interior designers have recently fallen in love with them as they employ various wildlife decals similar to those seen above. How would you like to have a group of long-necked mammals spying on you from behind your couch? Just don't hang any potted plants nearby. Giraffes will eat virtually anything green and are especially fond of flowers.

The mother giraffes are in charge of the young. Males seldom stick around after the mating, preferring to hang out with others of their sex in segregated groups.
And finally, as with all members of the animal kingdom, the real show stopping scene-stealers are the babies and toddlers (giraffes likely invented the word "toddler" their young do so much of it). Like the elephants, giraffe mothers are quite loving and protective of their young. Though giraffes can run at speeds up to 60 miles per hour, to avoid predators (mostly big cats), their offspring can't.

You're leaving? Guess I'll duck
our for a drink.


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