Saturday, January 18, 2014

Unusual Artifacts: “Tippoo’s Tiger,” c. 1790

Tippoo's Tiger
Victoria & Albert Museum
This magnificent object is really more of a musical instrument than it is a toy.  Well, to be honest, it’s more of a curiosity than anything else.  Indian in origin with distinctly European working parts,Tippoo’s Tiger (also known as Tipu's Tiger) is a magnificent life-sized animated sculpture of a tiger devouring a man in a 1790’s style costume. Within the tiger’s body, an organ is operated by turning a handle.  This organ—by means of a system of bellows—produced the growls of the tiger and the anguished cries of his victim. Another miniature organ—also built into the tiger’s body—features 18 pipes which can be played by means of ivory keys and stops set into the tiger’s side.  This really is a peculiar thing.  However, it’s also quite spectacular.  When it came to England in 1808, it was the talk of London society.  On display for many years at the East India Company’s Museum, it eventually reverted to the Crown and is now displayed at the Victoria &Albert Museum.

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