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Lions & Tigers & Bears, Mon Dieu!




Do you spy the monkey in the bottom left corner of the above engraving by Hogarth?  Does the creature seem to be out of place in the eighteenth century salon? 

Perhaps.

But, did you know that in 18th Century France, many aristocrats kept exotic animals as pets?

Marie Antoinette's chief lady-in-waiting, Laure-Auguste de Fitz-James, the Princesse de Chimay, kept a monkey as a pet.  On fine days, the princesse enjoyed parading her monkey through the gardens at Versailles.  Wearing a tiny suit, he would scamper about, delighting visitors with his silly antics.  Some say the monkey enjoyed more popularity that his mistress.

The princesse was not the only aristocrat in 18th century France to nurture a passion for the exotic.  Parrots, lions, tigers, ocelots, capuchin monkeys, elephants, white peacocks, and leopards were owned by various members of the aristocracy, who would pay to have the creatures brought from Africa, India, or South America.

The naturalist, scientist, and cosmologist, Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte of Buffon, was fascinated with exotic creatures and kept a beautiful green parrot as a pet.  Parrots were an extremely popular pet choice for men and women.
 
In 1782, the prince de Poix arranged to purchase an ostrich, dromedary, camel, tiger, and a pair of lions. In 1783, he added jackals, hyenas, and antelopes to his list of much longed for beasts.


The menagerie at Versailles

Did you know...
  • Did you know there was a Royal Menagerie at Versailles?
  • Did you know Louis XIV once entertained the ambassador of Persia with a gruesome fight between a tiger and an elephant?
  • Did you know Louis XVI encouraged scientists to look upon the Royal Menagerie as a place to further study beasts of the wild?
  • Did you know bear baiting was a popular entertainment within the streets of Paris?
  • Did you know the Saint Germain and Saint Laurent fairs in Paris featured animal shows, which were extremely popular with Parisians?
  • The average citizen could not afford to keep an exotic animal as a pet, but they could purchase engravings of tigers, lions, and assorted exotic beasts?
  • Did you know the Rococo artist Jean-Baptiste Oudry spent much of his time drawing and painting exotic animals?
After the Storm:
For her ties to the royal family, the Princesse de Chimay was briefly imprisoned at the prison Osieaux.  Fortunately, she survived the Revolution.  What became of her monkey nobody knows. 


18th Century Gentleman poses for a
portrait with his menagerie in the
background.

Painting by Jean-Baptiste Oudry

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