Exotic Animals in the Art and Culture of the Medici Court in Florence


The book examines the roles that rare and exotic animals played in the cultural self-fashioning and the political imaging of the Medici court during the family’s reign, first as Dukes of Florence (1532-1569) and subsequently as Grand Dukes of Tuscany (1569-1737). The book opens with an examination of global practices in zoological collecting and cultural uses of animals. The Medici’s activities as collectors of exotic species, the menageries they established and their deployment of animals in the ceremonial life of the court and in their art are examined in relation to this wider global perspective. The book seeks to nuance the myth promoted by the Medici themselves that theirs was the most successful princely serraglio in early modern Europe.  

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Angelica Groom, Ph.D. (2013, University of Sussex), is senior lecturer in History of Art and Design at the University of Brighton. She has contributed chapters to edited volumes on courtly collecting and on the relationship between zoological illustrations and sixteenth-century natural history.
“What is made very clear is the highly significant and important role the collecting, ownership, and display of rare and exotic animals had for the Medici rulers of Florence. Both for this and the light it sheds on contemporary perceptions of these animals, Groom’s book is immensely valuable and rewarding.”
Adriana Turpin, Society for the History of Collecting, inIsis volume 111 (2020)

“Collecting exotic plants and animals from distant global markets underscored the commercial reach of the Medici family in Florence and their wide-flung networks. This well-written, carefully researched study […] belongs to a new, relevant field of study, namely that of animal studies and zoological collections, the rise of global menageries and its impact upon Renaissance art history and early modern collecting. This well-designed book is supported by a table of the Medici dynasty, useful transcriptions (Appendices 2–4) and colour illustrations.”
Annemarie Jordan Gschwend, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, in Archives of Natural History (DOI: 10.3366/anh.2019.0612)

"The menageries of lions, rare animal species, as well as aviaries, the author argues, were key requirements in the manifestation of princely magnificence […] The Medici practices of collecting and exchanging animals built on practices established during the Republic,when lions became an important religious and civic symbol, and helped to establish the political legitimacy of the new Medici regime […] A fascinating case study that provides new understandings of the significance of animals at the Medici court. The author has uncovered fascinating examples that will amaze readers. This richly illustrated monograph – often even in colour! – should therefore speak to a wide readership interested in both animal studies and the history of Renaissance Italy."
Stefan Hanß, University of Manchester, in Nuncius, volume 34, pp 713-716

“This book by Angelica Groom presents well-documented evidence of Medici self-promotion from a practical viewpoint, revealing a malevolent aspect that has been insufficiently explored. A brief overview of animal collections and menageries, established by Asian and European sovereigns, introduces the Medici collections “in relation to a wider global phenomenon of cultural activities centered on animals. […] This book is recommended for those interested in Medici history, animal collecting, menageries, hunting, animal exploitation, spectacles, and imagery.”
Simona Cohen, Tel Aviv University, in Medici Renaissance Quarterly volume 73, issue 4. (DOI: 10.1017/rqx.2020.238)

Table of the Medici Dynasty

Introduction and Global Perspective of Animal Collecting and Menageries

Part 1: Cultural Uses of Animals at the Medici Court

1Zoological Collecting at the Medici Court: Practices of Exchange and Processes of Procurement
2Menageries and aviaries in Medicean Florence
3The Sport of the Chase: “Exotic Hunts” at the Medici Court
4Spectacles of Slaughter and Courtly Pageants: Exotic Beasts as Symbols of Power and Colonial Ambitions

Part 2: Exotic Animals in the Art of the Medici Court

5Animal Imagery in the service of Political Imaging
6Medici Patronage and Early Modern Naturalism: Tensions between Scientific and Decorative Naturalism
7The Ambrogiana Series of Animal Paintings

1Medici Archive Project Database of Documents Relating to “exotic and unusual” Animals
2Transcribed Extract from Vincenzio Follini and Modesto Rastrelli,Firenze antica e moderna illustrata—Describing the Serraglio de leoni near San Marco, in Florence
3Transcribed Extract from Cesare Agolanti’s La Descrizione di Pratolino del Ser.mo Gran Duca di Toscana Poeticamente Descritto da M. Cesare Agolanti Fiorentino
4Transcribed extract from Gateano Cambiagi’s Descrizione dell’ Imperiale Giardino di Boboli—Describing the Serraglio degli animali rari

Scholars concerned with the Medici family, animal studies, early modern courts, zoological collecting and art history.

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