Medici giraffe

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The Medici giraffe was a giraffe presented to Lorenzo de Medici in 1486 possibly by al-Ashraf Qaitbay, the Burji Mamluke sultan of Egypt, in an attempt to win the support of the Medici.

It caused a great stir on its arrival in Florence: although the Medici maintained a large menagerie, and had previously featured a giant mannequin of a giraffe in the animal entertainments they provided to the citizenry, this was the first time a living example had been seen in the city. It was also reputedly the first living giraffe to be seen in Italy since the days of Ancient Rome. It did not survive for long and another giraffe was not seen in Europe for almost 300 years.


In 46 BC Julius Caesar had celebrated his triumphs in Egypt by returning to Rome with a vast menagerie, the star attraction of which was a giraffe, the first ever seen in Europe. The Romans did not know what to make of such an animal and named it the cameleopard, for it seemed to them to embody characteristics of both the camel and leopard. Caesar had the animal torn to shreds by lions in the arena, probably to emphasise his power by the disposal of such a rare creature in a casual manner. Lorenzo had read of the success of the spectacle of Caesar's giraffe and saw a way to cement his reputation in Florence by emulating it. He also realised that he could gain further political influence by passing the animal on and promised to send it to Anne of France, after its sojourn in Florence.

Whether the giraffe was...
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