Tuesday 4 June 2013

The Lion Smiles Tonight

The World's Most Awkward Taxidermy
Okay ... the story goes that, in 1731, the King Frederick I of Sweden received a lion as a gift from the Bey of Algiers. Unfortunately, when the animal died, he gave the pelt and the bones to a taxidermist who had never seen a living lion. And this was the result, still on display today at Gripsholm Castle, Mariefred, Södermanland, Sweden.
The World's Most Awkward Taxidermy
It's a lovely story. However, like most stories that seem too brilliantly funny to be true, it isn't exactly pukka. Research by Darek Wędrychowski at History Stack Exchange reveals that (a) there's no valuable source for the story - even the website for Gripsholm Castle doesn't mention it - and (b) there were several Beys of Algiers. In 1731, Algeria was known as the Regency of Algiers, a territory of the Ottoman Empire, and the official title of its ruler was Dey. So 'Bey' may be a spelling mistake. However, there were also three Beys - governors of provinces (Beyliks) - nominated by the Dey. So it could have been any of them.
Then there's the fact that the lion was alive when it first arrived in Sweden. So who reduced the dead animal to pelt and bones if not a taxidermist? If so they'd have seen the full animal - so why didn't they do the taxidermy work? Why give it to a different stuffer who'd never seen one? And what happened to the skull? It's been suggested that he worked from heraldic images of lions - hence the projecting tongue. Certainly, it looks like a heraldic pose from the side:
Nothing explains those teeth though - had they never even seen a cat??
Fascinating and hilarious. I'd love to know more.

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