A menagerie is a collection of captive animals, frequently exotic, kept for display; or the place where such a collection is kept, a precursor to the modern zoo or zoological garden.
The term was first used in 17th-century France, in reference to the management of household or domestic stock. Later, it came to be used primarily in reference to aristocratic or royal animal collections. The French-language Methodical Encyclopaedia of 1782 defines a menagerie as an "establishment of luxury and curiosity". Later on, the term referred also to travelling animal collections that exhibited wild animals at fairs across Europe and the Americas.
A menagerie was mostly connected with an aristocratic or royal court and was situated within a garden or park of a palace. These aristocrats wanted to illustrate their power and wealth by displaying exotic animals which were uncommon, difficult to acquire, and expensive to maintain in a living and active state.
The aristocratic menageries are distinguished from the later zoological garden (zoos) since they were founded and owned by aristocrats whose intentions were not primarily of scientific and educational interest.
Medieval period and Renaissance
During the Middle Ages, several sovereigns across Europe maintained menageries at their royal courts. An early example is that of the Emperor Charlemagne in the 8th century. His three menageries, at Aachen, Nijmegen and Ingelheim, located in present-day Netherlands and Germany, housed the first elephants seen in Europe since the Roman Empire, along with monkeys, lions, bears, camels, falcons, and many exotic birds. Charlemagne received exotic animals for his collection as gifts from rulers of Africa and Asia. In 797, the
The most prominent animal collection in medieval England was the Tower Menagerie in London that began as early as 1204. It was established by KingHenry III received a wedding gift in 1235 of three leopards from Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor. The most spectacular arrivals in the early years were a white bear and an elephant, gifts from the kings of Norway and France in 1251 and in 1254 respectively. In 1264, the animals were moved to the Bulwark, which was renamed the Lion Tower, near the main western entrance of the Tower. This building was constituted by rows of
In the first half of the thirteenth century, Emperor Frederick II had three permanent menageries in Italy, at Melfi in Basilicata, at Lucera in Apulia and at Palermo in Sicily. In 1235, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II established at his court in southern Italy the "first great menagerie" in western Europe. An elephant, a white bear, a giraffe, a leopard, hyenas, lions, cheetahs, camels, and monkeys were all exhibited; but the emperor was particularly interested in birds, and studied them sufficiently to write a number of authoritative books on them.
In the beginning of the 15th century, a royal menagerie was established in the Royal Palace of
By the end of the 15th century, the aristocracy of
Versailles and its legacy
During the seventeenth century, exotic birds and small animals provided diverting ornaments for the court of France; lions and other large animals were kept primarily to be brought out for staged fights. The collecting grew and attained more permanent lodgings in the 1660s, when Louis XIV constructed two new menageries: one at Vincennes, next to a palace on the eastern edge of Paris, and a more elaborate one, which became a model for menageries throughout Europe, at Versailles, the site of a royal hunting lodge two hours (by carriage) west of Paris.
Around 1661, he had a menagerie of "ferocious" beasts built at Vincennes for the organization of fights. Surrounding a rectangular courtyard, a two-storey building with balconies allowed spectators to view the scene. The animals were housed on the ground floor in cells bordering the courtyard, with small yards on the outside where they could take a bit of exercise. At Vincennes, lions, tigers, and leopards, as well as polecat, minks and weasels were kept in cages around an amphitheater where the king could entertain courtiers and visiting dignitaries with bloody battles. In 1682, for instance, the ambassador of Persia enjoyed the spectacle of a fight to the death between a royal tiger and an elephant.
When the palace of Versailles was built, Louis XIV of France also erected a menagerie within the palace's park. The menagerie at Versailles was to be something very different from the one at Vincennes. Most of it was constructed in 1664 when the first animals were introduced, although the interior fittings were not finished until 1668–70. Situated in the south-west of the park, it was Louis XIV's first major project at Versailles and one of several pleasure houses that were gradually assembled around the palace. It represented the first menagerie according to Baroque style. The prominent feature of Baroque menageries was the circular layout, in the middle of which stood a beautiful pavilion. Around this pavilion was a walking path and outside this path were the enclosures and cages. Each enclosure had a house or stable at the far end for the animals and was bounded on three sides with walls. There were bars only in the direction of the pavilion.
Animal fights were halted at Vincennes around 1700, the site fell into disuse, and the animals were installed at Versailles with the others. At about this time, the lions, leopards, and tigers from the menagerie at Vincennes were transferred to Versailles, where they were housed in newly built enclosures fronted with iron bars.
This particular enterprise marked a decisive step in the creation of menageries of curiosities and was imitated to some extent throughout Europe after the late seventeenth century. Monarchs, princes and important lords built them in France (Chantilly from 1663), England (Kew, Osterley), the
This design was adopted particularly by the
Another aristocratic menagerie was founded in 1774 by
In the nineteenth century the aristocratic menageries were displaced by the modern
The first exotic animal known to have been exhibited in America was a lion, in Boston in 1710, followed a year later in the same city by a camel. A sailor arrived in Philadelphia in August 1727 with another lion, which he exhibited in the city and surrounding towns for eight years. The first elephant was imported from India to America by a ship's captain, Jacob Crowninshield, in 1796. It was first displayed in New York City and travelled extensively up and down the East Coast. In 1834 James and William Howes’ New York Menagerie toured New England with an elephant, a rhinoceros, a camel, two tigers, a polar bear, and several parrots and monkeys.
America's touring menageries slowed to a crawl under the weight of the depression of the 1840s and then to a halt with the outbreak of the Civil War. Only one travelling menagerie of any size existed after the war: The Van Amburgh menagerie travelled the United States for nearly forty years. Unlike their European counterparts, America's menageries and circuses had combined as single travelling shows, with one ticket to see both. This increased the size and the diversity of their collections. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus advertised their shows as the “World’s Greatest Menagerie”.
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