chapter  10
The Mirror and the Cage: Queens and Dwarfs at the Early Modern Court
Pages 15

Isabella Clara Eugenia, Infanta of Spain, arrives in France to visit her grandmother Catherine de Medici, collector of marvels. With her is a gentleman carrying a cloth-covered cage, who announces that the Infanta wishes to present the queen with a parrot that can speak many languages. From the cage comes a voice speaking eloquently in French, Dutch, Spanish, English, and Italian. With a flourish the gentleman whips away the cloth-revealing a female dwarf, orating fluently. The court erupts in cries of shock and delight.1 The Infanta had hit her mark: while Catherine had a vast menagerie of exotic pets, she had an absolute mania for dwarfs, collecting rare specimens from Poland and Africa. Her latest acquisition turned her chamber into a wonder-booth for staging what Bacon called “frivolous impostures for pleasure and strangeness.”2