Image: Brijesh Patel
July 31 2010
I have a terrible weakness for taxidermy, and I recently became the proud owner of two stuffed antique tortoises and as such felt I had joined the noble tradition of grande luxe reptile ownership fashionable among a small but select group of belle époque-era aesthetes.
One of the most memorable passages of À Rebours by Huysmans concerns the protagonist having a tortoise covered with gold and studded with gems, better to set off the colours of the carpet it walked upon. What is even more extraordinary is that this fictional example appears to have been modelled on an actual gold-plated pet owned by Robert Montesquieu, the man to whom Proust gave the epithet, The Professor of Beauty.
Nor was Montesquieu alone; D’Annunzio was given a large tortoise by the flamboyant Marchesa Casati. After its death, the shell was gold-plated and the feet and head cast in bronze; thereafter it sat on a carmine satin cushion in the Italian poet’s dining room. I, however, am only a cut-price aesthete and I am wondering whether I can get away with a can of gold spray paint.