This is a painting of the giraffe which Zheng He's crew brought back from the east coast of Africa. It was painted by Shen Du (1357-1434), who was a poet, painter, calligrapher, and a favorite of the Yongle emperor. The Chinese called the giraffe a qilin (ch'i-lin), an auspicious mythical animal. Shen Du composed the following poem about the giraffe he painted:
In the corner of the western seas, in the stagnant waters of a great
Truly was produced a qilin (ch'i-lin), whose shape was as high as fifteen feet.
With the body of a deer and the tail of an ox, and a fleshy, boneless horn,
With luminous spots like a red cloud or purple mist.
Its hoofs do not tread on living beings and in itts wanderings it carefully selects its ground.
It walks in stately fashion and in its every motion it observes a rhythm,
Its harmonious voice sounds like a bell or a musical tube.
Gentle is this animal, that has in antiquity been seen but once,
The manifestation of its divine spirit rises up to heaven's abode.
Zheng He's Inscription
Reference Page for Online Illustrations
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Comments to: Robert Jeremy Fish