Throwback Thursday: Dwarf-giving

While searching online for hairstyle inspiration, I came across noblewoman Isabella Clara Eugenia. 

She was born on the 12th August 1598 to Philip II of Spain (known as Philip the Prudent) and his third wife Elisabeth of Valois.

She appears to have been an intelligent and practical person, able to translate court documents for her father and nurse him on his sickbed.

But she also gave dwarves as gifts.

Dwarves - as in people of short stature.

Further research proves that she wasn’t the only one! Dwarf-giving was a thing. At one time, it was considered the gift for aristocrats who had everything.

Once a dwarf was given, it appears they were accepted into court life. In her article ‘Inventoried Monsters’, art historian Touba Ghadessi suggests that the gift-giving process had a metamorphic effect on the way dwarves were perceived. They went from ‘objects to subjects’. 

However, the historian Janet Ravenscroft argues that dwarves were already perceived as special and intriguing. In fact, in Egypt during the Early Dynastic and Old Kingdom periods, dwarves were treated with extreme reverence. Their rarity made them the ideal gift. 

Isabella gave a dwarf to Philip IV of Spain. His name was Miguel Soplillo and he became the king’s close companion for over 40 years. 

Here is a picture of the two together:

Miguel Soplillo | Laughing Heart

Perhaps having such power over a person, the power to alter their destiny, move them around socially and dominate them physically must have made both the giver and receiver feel God-like. I read Philip’s hand on Miguel’s head as hinting at that. 

With whatever reverence dwarves were treated, however good their lives became through closeness to a monarch, exchanging people is a troubling occurrence in the history of gift-giving.

Being treated in certain way because of your size must have grown old, fast.

I remember being on the London Underground with a colleague, Emily, who is over six feet tall. A man stood next to her said: ‘You’re tall’ as though this was brand new information. 'Yes,' she said, 'I am'. 

Emily said it happened all the time. It was annoying but that was the extent of it. Emily was able to pursue and select a career of her choice, pick her company and didn't live in fear of being acquired, gift-wrapped and sent to the Queen.