Why I Will Eventually Have A Stuffed Crocodile Hanging From My Ceiling

I suppose I should add that the planned croc is going to be paper mache, mostly because (good) taxidermy is expensive. (The fact that I already own a lot of creepy decor is a secondary thought.) You'd think that this might have something to do with the fact that I used to live in Louisiana in a wildlife area that put gators (I know, not the same as crocs, bear with me) right around the corner from my house. But no - this is thanks to reading many history books and continually finding references to or illustrations of "stuffed crocodiles" hanging from the ceilings of homes of the nobility or inside churches. You'd find a vague reference here and there as to why (never more than a few paragraphs) - I never did manage to find a full book on the subject. Because yes, that's the kind of thing I always have kept my eyes open for.


Today I was reminded about The Stuffed Crocodile by reading - and yet again I can blame A Traveller in Italy - this (p 338) quote, from the chapter on Venice:

"S. Theodore's statue may be seen on one of the two columns in the Piazzetta in the act of spearing a crocodile, which symbolizes Evil."

Venice is known for having Saint Mark as its patron saint - but apparently the city was wildly fickle, because once that saint was Theodore. So instead of having all those winged lions (which are awesome, seriously, as a child I loved looking at those in coffee table art books) all over Venice we'd have Theo fighting off a croc. It's worth a moment of pondering just to imagine the change of artwork.


Columns of Saint Mark and Saint Theodore (in which you only see Theo from the back, eyeroll)

Better photo - and yes, that looks like a dragon, not a croc. They were sort of interchangeable in some of the art. Also note, Peter Ackroyd quote! I need to read his book on Venice!)


I'd not googled for info on stuffed crocodile (and why they were hung all over the place) in a while, but this time I found much more information. In fact, here's 6min of video that answers all my questions. (And of course, more links after the page break, because I never can resist.)




The Inaugural Stuffed Crocodile - Idols Of The Cave (YouTube, 6min)

Do check out the webpage of Idols of the Cave for that video because - importantly for those of us who want more information - you'll find a long list of citations about the artwork and information in the mini documentary. Sadly the video series/website doesn't have any updates since May 2012. (Seriously, read the citations, you'll find lots of unusual links.)


While I completely approve of a modern taxidermy substitute for Idols of the Cave's croc, I'm going for something that looks more like the older, weird looking things from the illustrations. If you look at some of the ancient taxidermy crocs in churches you'll see that many of them are in bad shape, which makes them look somewhat more grim. I'll probably shy away from that.


Images for google search "stuffed crocodiles ceiling" - and one in Lombardy that's rough looking (as an example of "bad shape").


Another example, which gets its own paragraph (it has a lot of fans), is in the Sanctuary of the Saint Mary in Grazie, near Mantua. Check out the following pages:

Crocodile watching along the Mincio (best closeup photo of the croc),

Grazie, Italy and the Crocodile Church,

Santuario delle Grazie (Shrine of Our Lady of Grace), Grazie, Italy (not much about the croc, but more on the church)


Random links (first two via Idol of the Cave's references):


Chamber of Art and Curiosities, Trausnitz Castle, Bavarian National Museum

A few photos and short text giving you a general idea of what the historical cabinet of curiosities contained. (Think of it as a natural science collection combined with "anything the owner felt was neat or miraculous.") Scroll down and you'll see the crocodile on the ceiling, but annoyingly a poor angle to take his photo.


Crocodiles on the Ceiling, 2002 Smithsonian exhibit on Rare Books on Early Museums

Here we go, multiple old illustrations. I'll probably go with the Ole Worm example (this one), mainly because I've read about Ole Worm again and again (he pops up in most history of science books). (Also I use his name often for character naming in video games I play.) One of the more sad facts from this (online) exhibition: "Bug infestations destroyed almost all early natural history collections."


On Stuffed Animals Hanging From the Ceiling, Graphic Arts Collection, Princeton Univ.

Which is a complete tease: "“So, why were the stuffed animals hanging from the ceiling in the pharmacies, doctor’s offices, dentist’s operating rooms, and alchemist’s laboratories?” writes Helfand. To find the answer, you will have to read his article." But you can only read that article if you're able to log into the system. Still there's a great illustration of a croc - and other things - on the ceiling.


Au Crocodile

Famous Strasbourg restaurant with a stuffed crocodile from Napoleon's campaign to Egypt and Syria. There's a video about the restaurant's history with some views of the croc (and the nice exterior sign, which I assume is non-taxidermy art). It's all in French, but the croc images (for those just wanting to check out the croc) are in the first 30 seconds.


Town Hall's Four Crocodiles at (blog) Nimes Notes, Sept 2013

Nimes' town hall (Hôtel de Ville) apparently went all out for stuffed crocs: "They were purchased or received as gifts between 1597 and 1703. The emblem of Nîmes, a crocodile chained in a palm tree, comes from a Roman coin minted to commemorate Augustus’ victory at the battle in Actium in Egypt in 31 BC."


When crocodiles fly upside-down, livejournal entry, 7 Apr 2009

Photo and description to visit of crocodile at Montbard's Buffon museum. Quote of epicness:

"...It's almost a cliché for Cabinets of Curiosities to have a crocodile or alligator suspended upside- down, as is this one in Buffon's orangery. 

I've been reflecting on this recently as last summer I bought a stuffed crocodile down south, in a Béziers market, and am looking forward to displaying it. Unfortunately it's still down south as I was travelling with friends and it was too big to get into their car; I suggested that their child travel by train but you known how people are."


M. R. James story Canon Alberic's Scrapbook contains such a croc.

An example of the many croc references that have popped up and intrigued me. Found in James' story collection Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (public domain, found in multiple places online). The MR James Podcast, A Podcast to the Curious, did an episode on the story, and tracked down photos of the croc, which does exist in the Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges Cathedral. (Note that its wikipedia page describes it: "Bizarrely, there is a stuffed crocodile inside the cathedral.") Here's the full text of the story, and the quote:

"...However, the Englishman (let us call him Dennistoun) was soon too deep in his note-book and too busy with his camera to give more than an occasional glance to the sacristan. Whenever he did look at him, he found him at no great distance, either huddling himself back against the wall or crouching in one of the gorgeous stalls. Dennistoun became rather fidgety after a time. Mingled suspicions that he was keeping the old man from his dejeuner, that he was regarded as likely to make away with St. Bertrand's ivory crozier, or with the dusty stuffed crocodile that hangs over the font, began to torment him."


TV Tropes: Apothecary Alligator

"The workshop of a wizard, alchemist, or apothecary is never complete without a stuffed crocodile or alligator hanging from the ceiling. What it's actually for is anybody's guess."

With a quote I had to share:


There was a large crystal ball with a crack in it, an astrolabe with several bits missing, a rather scuffed octogram on the floor, and a stuffed alligator hanging from the ceiling. A stuffed alligator is absolutely standard equipment in any properly-run magical establishment. This one looked as though it hadn't enjoyed it much.

- Mort, Terry Pratchett