The collecting of zoological rarities during the early modern era played a significant role in the self-fashioning of the courtly elite, both in Europe and beyond. The Medici family, from the beginning of their reign in 1532 as Dukes of Florence and from 1569 to 1737 as Grand Dukes of Tuscany, were enthusiastic collectors of rare fauna. This paper will focus specifically on these collecting practices and on the display of animals within the setting of the
Florentine court. Collecting interests varied among different members of the Medici regime and tracing these interests across the lifespan of the dynasty will highlight both the changing priorities in the display of the zoological collection and shifting attitudes towards animals more broadly.
The Medici rulers collected and displayed animals in various forms: animal parts and taxidermied specimens formed part of the Wunderkammer collections and were exhibited alongside other exotica in various designated settings of the court, including the Tribuna at the Uffizi and the Guardaroba (now known as the Map Room) of the Palazzo Vecchio. Animals, especially exotic fauna imported into Europe from distant parts of the globe (Africa, Asia, and the Americas), were also collected in living form. Their procurement was achieved by diverse means: animals entered the collection in the form of gifts, or they were sourced
via agents who were stationed in various European port cities, such as Venice, Seville, Amsterdam, where exotic commodities were being traded. The species that survived the ordeal of long sea and land voyages were destined to be displayed in the two mini zoos established by the Medici family - the Serraglio de leoni near San Marco, and the later Sarraglio degli animali rari in the Boboli Gardens, as well as in the paradisical settings of the Medici’s magnificent gardens, located in and around Florence.
Dr Angelica Groom is principal lecturer in the School of Art and Media and on the programme of History of Art and Design at the University of Brighton. She is the author of a recently published monograph Exotic Animals in the Art and Culture of the Medici Court in Florence (Brill, October 2018), as well as several book chapters relating to art, animals, collecting and natural history.
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