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Zarafa, the Giraffe who went to Paris

15th November 2018.

A Circa 1840s Indian Block Printed Quilt, in stripy pattern depicting decorative birds with exotic tail feathers, faded floral strips, strips of Chinese pagodas in similar colours, another of nesting birds and a flying bird with a fish in his mouth, single mast sailing boat with two flags, and an edging depicting 'Zarafa and Atir',

 Estimate: £1,000-2,000 plus buyer’s premium

A circa 1830s quilt, composed of strips of different Indian block printed fabrics, is to be sold in Tennants Auctioneers’ Textiles, Costume & Fashion Sale on 24th November. The quilt is notable for the inclusion of a fabric depicting 'Zarafa and Atir', the female Nubian giraffe gifted from Muhammed Ali of Egypt to King Charles X of France in 1827, and her devoted handler.

The young giraffe was captured in Sudan and taken to Khartoum on the back of a camel. Transferred onto a boat, she was taken down the Nile to Alexandria with the company of three cows who provided her with 25 litres of milk a day. From Alexandria, she was sailed across the Mediterranean in a boat with a hole in the deck to accommodate her height, accompanied by Sudanese servant Atir, who would stay with her for the rest of her life. Arriving in Marseilles in 1826, she was overwintered in the city, before being walked the 900km to Paris by Atir and a naturalist Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, and of course some cows! During the colder spells, she wore a yellow two-part coat and shoes. The extraordinary travelling party drew crowds wherever they went.

They arrived in Paris after 41 days, and Zarafa was presented to the King on 20th May 1827, before being moved to Les Jardin des Plantes. La Belle Africaine (as she was dubbed by the press) caused quite a sensation in Paris, inspiring writers, artists, hairstyles ('coiffure a la girafe' - where hair was propped high on the head to resemble two ossicones), giraffe-print fabrics and more. There was even a fashionable colour known as ‘belly of giraffe’. Zarafa lived in Paris for 18 years, under the constant and devoted eye of Atir.

Muhammed Ali gifted three giraffes to European royalty; along with Charles X, they were given to George IV and Francis I of Austria. They were the first giraffes to be seen in Europe since the Medici Giraffe was sent to Florence in 1486.

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