An 18th Century French Menagerie : The Jardin des Plantes

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Kim, In Hae
Term Paper, AP European History Class, December 2007

Table of Contents

I. The Enlightenment and Changing Views
II. Early History of the Jardin des Plantes
III. Changes
IV After the French Revolution
V The National Natural History Museum and Newly Brought-in Animals
VI Conclusion
VII. Bibliography

I. The Enlightenment and Changing Views
            It was during the Enlightenment period when people in France started to question the needs of menageries that were made and managed by princes. These oppositions led up for the Encyclopedic to insist that it would be odd to feed beasts instead of men in times of great famine and thus when there are not enough bread for human, menageries must be destroyed. These thoughts are sure to be related to the thought of this organization's idea that aristocratic hunting destroys the works of the peasants and their workings to bring further progresses in agriculture and strong dislike towards worldly curiosity. To them, and also to the other numerous people who go with their thought, only natural-history collections were accepted as a scholarly work and their ideas soon grew as the general public's opinion. As for a result, many menageries disappeared during the Revolutionary period and the Jardin des Plantes (formerly the Jardin du Roi) in Paris, was constructed in the guidance of the naturalists and was made for the general public instead of the few privileged people.
            Meanwhile, in England, people started to reject the French style menageries from the beginnings of the 1700s. This was because the formal French style gardens were to be considered as a symbol of the absolutism that rose and have already sunk in France during the previous century. Also, the menageries were considered as a portrait of human beings that showed the suffering of oppression, that is, the oppressed animals were considered as a strong symbolism of oppressed humans and thus brought up huge dislike. Many theorists and practitioners, including Charles Bridgeman and William Dent, considered the menageries as an overwhelmingly artificial facility and was regulating nature too much. In these senses, the newly built menageries were new types of gardens that had the new attitudes implied.

II. Early History of the Jardin des Plantes
            During the 1700s, the Versailles menageries did not get much attention from the King and his court. As Louis XIV. passed away, many attempts were made to erase the track of absolutism and to bring up the symbol of division of power and so the regent sold some of the animals and then gave the others away. Louis XV. also did not pay much attention to his menagerie and he basically almost never visited it and his successors were also the same. The map of Versailles, made in 1781, does not show the menagerie and thus it can be interpreted that the menageries were used as no more than the royal family's promenade places and paths.
            Although Louis XV. did not visit the menageries often, this did not mean that he had no fascination towards exotic animals. He was rather quite fond of them and made them brought to his chateau when new animals were brought to his menagerie or when rare animals passed through the animals. It was rather the symbolism of public displaying and the whole show off like features of the menagerie that he disliked.
            Louis XV's dislike towards the theatrical menagerie represents the different taste from the Sun King and his successors. The successors of the Sun King did not really like the huge ceremonies and neither favoured the meticulous etiquette and so even though the successors continued to carry on such practices but searched for private refuge. The court function only on Sundays of festive occasions under Louis XVI. and the aristocrats stayed in Pairs or in the grounds of the chateau. During this period, the Trianon Menagerie, installed by Louis XV. and then Marie-Antoinette, became a popular place for the sovereigns for this place represented the perfect and romanticized rural life. The Trianon menagerie contained Dutch cows, rare hen, various pigeons and other domestic species and was only open towards the inner circle.

III. Changes
            These small changes of the concepts of menageries were also shown in the parks of Versailles. Similar changes were made and thus the geometric rigour was thrown away and instead mature forests were made. This garden was a entirely new type of garden that can be said to be introduced by Marie-Antoinette's hamlet of the Trianon. The funny part is that these changes were mainly made not because of the high interest towards preserving nature as it self but because of the low investment made towards the menagerie in Versailles and the endlessly postponed renovations. The buildings deteriorated and the yards turned into a total disaster when the water system flooded. Even so, the inner circles who had access to the private gardens of Versailles constantly visited Queen Marie and would walk there while Louis XV. visited Trianon with Madame de Pompadour.
            After the endless postpones, finally, a series of renovations were made in 1750, 1774, 1782 and 1791 to keep up a certain level for the sake of the state. During this process, the diversity of species remained and further more arrivals were planned and were done. Two-horned rhinoceros were brought in 1770 and an elephant was brought around 1775. These continuous renovations and newly brought animals were truly enough to bring back the remarks from the past that had shrunk throughout the years.

IV. After the French Revolution
      As the royal family of French had to back out of France because of the Revolution, the menageries went through the biggest reform in 1791 for mainly economical reasons. During this process, many types and numbers of birds disappeared. This disappearance but was only a slight taste compared to the later on losses. In 10 August 1792, the local Jacobins arrived to Paris and began to hand in the monkeys, stags and birds to the skinners as a way to get rid of the symbol of tyranny. They were actually planning to establish a stud farm. This plan was important for the Jacobins because it had a symbolic meaning of substituting the useless beasts with a breeding ground that would benefit agriculture, transport and the army.
            When the process of giving the animals were almost done, the last animals were decided to be given to Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, steward of the Jardin du Roi. If so, the animals would end up being stuffed and was sure to end up being one of the exibited creatures in the natural-history rooms. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre stopped this from happening by sending a memo to the French National Convention in 1790 to purpose the left animals to be sent to the national Jardin des Plantes in Paris. This proposal was backed by the scientific community and was accepted. This memo was the first significant starting of the long continued debate between the scholars and the oppositions. The scholars wanted to use the animals for studies and others viewed the that it would be more educational to keep the animals in the menagerie. This was the because during this period, as Louis XVI. got executed and the Revolution continued, the schoars wished to get rid of all the luxurious frauds and soley devote everything towards true studies and thus to them, menageries were necessary. But this debate was finally ended as the scholars decided to yield.
            These changes of attitude can be explained in the context of the general reform of scholarly establishments. In 1792 and 1793, all universities, academies and faculties of medicine were eliminated because they were thought to symbolize intellectual tyranny. On the other had, Jardin des Plantes maintained to stay open because they were open to public and was appreciated for their popularization of science and experimentation.

V. The National Natural History Museum and Newly Brought-in Animals
            In June 1793, the Jardin des Plantes was turned into the national natural-history Museum. This transformation was a part of the trend going on in France. Near this period, many great museums were established and the Musee du Louvre. Still, these trends and the new given name did not solve te problem of lack of funds. Thus the Museum had to retain its temporary installations in the stables, an old greenhouse and the surrounding copses. The Museum was worse than the menagerie for it was pacted with animals and did not have enough space and low food supply which can be blamed for the national shortage. This caused high mortality and brought back the wild nature of animals and most animals disappeared in 1795. If we consider the fact that these dead animals were brought to the Museum in 1794, the harsh situation can be approachable.
            After this whole death going on, the Museum had to restart almost from nothing and thus the normal process of traveling, purchasing, receiving animals as gits and scientific expedition was to be done newly. This process began with the arrival in 1794 when the survivor of versailles, a lion, a guagga and a bulbul hartebeest, arrived and as 30 animals were given as a gift by the Duke d'Orleans' estate at Raincy. In 1798, the whole large stocks or birds and mammals were brought newly and also an elephant pair was brought. They were brought from the menagerie of Het Loo owned by the Stadtholder which is located in Gelderland, Dutch Republic, by the French forces. Furthermore, the military successes helped France to get bears from Bern and a range of animals from Italian menageries.
            Gathering and bringing in animals from other countries that France had won over was one of the policy that French was implementing. To strengthen this policy, commissioners were sent by the Convention in 1794 among with two professor of the Museum. They were sent to the armies on the Rhine to gather works of art, books and scientific objects. After invading the Austrian Netherlands and the United Provinces in 1795, the army brought back not only animals but also plant seeds, agricultural tools and specimens from the natural-history chambers of the Brussels Academy and the Stadtholder of Holland. On 27 July 1798, great numbers of works of art, curios and exotic animals were brought into Paris since France practiced the same policy in Italy.

VI. Conclusion
            The 18th century history of zoological gardens in France can be said that went through the most diverse changes considering the short time period. During the 18th century, the types of zoological gardens varied from menageries to zoological garden like menagerie and a zoological garden of a form of a museum. These changes of forms were strongly related to the political atmosphere of France and even showed the characteristics of the ruling force such as the successors of the Sun King and the Revolutionary period's leaders. The interesting part is that even though lack of funds and lack of food, the zoological gardens did not end up into a total disappearance and remained partially because as a respect for the educational roles of them.

VII. Bibliography

Note : websites listed below were visited in November/December 2007.
1.      Baratay, Eric. Elisabeth, Hardouin-Fuqier. A History of Zoological Gardens in the West. London: Reaktion Books Ltd, 2002, excerpts posted by Google Books,,M1
2.      Haine, W. Scott. The history of France. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2000
3.      Article : Menagerie, from Wikipedia. 20 Nov 2007, 10:27,
4.      Article : Zoo, from Wikipedia, 11 Dec 2007, 13:55,