top of page
Giraffe Painting the Kings Camelopard La belle Africaine Zarafa

Charles Frederick de Brocktorff (1775–1850)

‘Camelopard – a present from the Pacha of Egypt to the King – at Malta on its way to England’

Signed and dated C.F. de Brocktorff. / 1827. lower right, inscribed as titled in the painted margins lower centre

Pencil and watercolour heightened with gold paint and gum arabic on paper, 36.8 x 27.9 cm

A gift so majestic, it made kings blush, and a gift so grand, it would startle Europe into a craze. Pasha Muhammad Ali of Egypt (1805-1848) did it in 1827: he sent three magical spotted, horned creatures to Europe, each with a neck reaching the skies and legs as long as a house is high. One giraffe to King Charles X of France, one to Francis I of Austria and the most fabled one to King George IV of England. A curious sight for Europeans, who had not seen such a beast since the Medici giraffe in 1487.

The English giraffe arrived in London by ship on August 11th, 1827, and was housed in the menagerie of King George IV, who is credited with establishing a private zoo at the Sandpit Gate of Windsor Great Park. His menagerie consisted of such exotic creatures as “wapiti, sambur, zebus, gnus, quaggas, Corine antelopes, llamas, wild swine, emus, ostriches, parrots, and waterfowl. There was also

an ‘enormous tortoise’.” However, his collection's showpiece was the female Nubian giraffe, also called ‘Camelopard’ by the English. He was so worried about it, that he cared more about the creature, and forgot to govern his own state.

The state of the giraffe was indeed the talk of the town because from the beginning there was trouble. An artist commissioned to paint the English giraffe’s portrait now noticed that its lower limbs seemed deformed by injuries. Investigation revealed that on the stage of its journey from Sennar to Cairo on the back of a camel, the wounds had been caused because its legs were lashed together under the camel’s body. After two years, it became very debilitated from those early wounds and exercise became painful and problematic. Someone came up with a plan to keep the animal moving, and a gigantic triangle on wheels was constructed in which “the creature was somehow secured each day and trundled round her paddock, the hooves just touching the ground.” Despite this kind treatment, giraffes are accustomed to Africa’s warm and open savannah, not the cold and wet confines of a British zoo. Hence, two years after its arrival in England, the giraffe died, having grown only 45 centimetres in captivity. King George IV, obsessed with his giraffe, was terribly distraught over its death and commissioned the taxidermist John Gould to stuff his recently deceased pet. “The stuffer to the Zoological Society, Mr Gould, has had the performing of his duty... Soon after the Giraffe expired, De Ville, the modelist,

was ordered down to Windsor, by His Majesty, and took a cast of the animal. From this cast a wooden form was manufactured, on which the skin of the animal is now placed, and which preserves its beauty to an extraordinary degree.” (The Times, April 15, 1830)

bottom of page