I have always been intrigued by giraffes on samplers ever since I saw the first one. And of course I was surprised that this was not a one-off: that several other exemplars existed, too. And the reason is that the samplers are doing what they do so well, chronicling real events.
Recently, when I was in the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, I saw this caricature of the very same giraffe being ridden by George and his mistress of the time. It had been sent by Mehmet Ali, Pasha of Egypt to George IV in 1827 by way of a request for diplomatic favour in the middle east conflict of the time.
Here you can see a more sober depiction of the Giraffe as executed by Jacques Laurent Agasse which includes the two keepers Mehmet Ali Pasha sent to care for the giraffe. So, now, you can go back and say ha-ha! when you see the attendant with the giraffe in the top sampler.
More puzzling were these depictions of a giraffe worked by a Spanish stitcher.
However, all becomes a little more clear when it is revealed that Mehmet Ali sent out 2 other giraffes. One to Charles X of France and the other to the Holy Roman Emperor, Francis II, in Vienna. Below you can see the picture of giraffes in the Schoenbrunner Tierpark. Given the links between the Austrian and Spanish courts, the Spanish samplers are perhaps more easily explained.
Many thanks to Elga from South Africa who has just told me about this old Viennese chart which appears on page 140 of Raffaella Serena's book Animal Embroideries and Patterns. Click here for more details. Elga tells me that about 20 years ago at a game park she and her husband saw a giraffe couple at their mating dance close to their car.