Michele Majer: What Use is the Giraffe, Part 3
Bard Graduate Center Assistant Professor of European and American Textiles Michele Majer will lead the discussion on the giraffe who went to Paris in 1827. What caused Dame Girafe to become so famous in French society during this time?
In 1827, the first living giraffe ever seen in France immediately became a commercial and cultural phenomenon. A number of factors contributed to the unprecedented vogue à la girafe that occurred during the late years of the Bourbon Restoration including the increasing embourgeoisement of French society, a concomitant burgeoning consumerism, and the flourishing of the press and print culture. Representations of la belle égyptienne appeared in lithographs, engravings, and woodcuts and she was used to sell fashion, textiles, wallpaper, ceramics, toys, and even gastronomical amusements. She inspired a play, sheet music, and a host of pamphlets (often satirical ones). The vividly metaphoric language used to describe the giraffe emphasized her foreignness, her femininity, and her “aristocratic” status derived from her royal connections. This talk will examine the response to Dame Girafe through the lens of fashion and other consumer commodities and touch on French society’s attitudes toward gender, natural history, and politics.
Sponsor: Dr. Joseph A. Chazan. Made possible in part by Susan Jaffe Tane and several friends of the Athenaeum who wish to remain anonymous.