A Very Unusual Taxidermy Cabinet Skin of a Giant Tree Swift Housed in a Sarcophagus Glass Case


Origin: Asian
Period: Late Nineteenth / Early Twentieth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1890-1900
The Case:
Depth: 6 inches
Length: 12 inches
Height: 5.5 inches

The well-preserved Giant Tree Swift, laid out on an emerald velvet base encased in a high quality and very unusual bevelled glass and brass trimmed sarcophagus case.

The tale of how this bird is so unusually preserved comes through a tale of unrequited love. Throughout his life Count Sardo Numsie set out to command the attention of the world, and of a beautiful animal tamer Joanna who captured his wounded heart. The Count was a master tightrope walker, known as ‘The Stupendous Sardo’, and his daring high-wire crossing catapults him into the finest drawing rooms of Europe, as well as the arms of the exquisite Joanna. She, a master at talking to animals, had lions eating out of her hand, and birds running her errands. Joanna loved to sing and her birds were her favourite company, the green finch, linnet bird, nightingale and most of all, this very tree swift.

Unable to shed his dark past, or the memory of his loveless childhood, the Count’s adoration of Joanna becomes an unshakeable and dangerous obsession. Though she is fond of him and becomes a part of his “act”, Joanna’s unyielding quest for an elusive ideal and sheer dedication to her animals turns his all-consuming love to terror and he drives her away with his obsessive behaviour. Her animals follow her to Russia, but after four years the Count was woken early one morning to the shrill call of a tree swift. Joanna’s favourite bird had returned.

Numsie was happy to have the bird around his tower and he looked after her for several years until she passed away. Without the bird to keep him company, and through his yearning and desire for Joanna, an unrequited love and a way of life long gone, Count Numsie’s broken heart was so bad he decided to immortalise Joanna’s favourite bird in the finest case to be found to have some tangible link to her soul. Almost like a hallowed shrine or tomb, the bird has sat on his mantelpiece ever since.