01 January 2013

Clara the rhinoceros

Clara the rhinoceros (?1738-14 April 1758) was a female Indian Rhinoceros who became famous during 17 years of touring Europe in the mid-18th century. She arrived in Europe in Rotterdam in 1741, becoming the fifth living rhinoceros to be seen in Europe in modern times since Dürer's Rhinoceros in 1515. After tours through towns in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Poland, France, Italy, Bohemia and Denmark, she died in London.
In 1738, aged approximately one month, Clara [had been] adopted by Jan Albert Sichterman in India after her mother was killed by Indian hunters. She became quite tame, and was allowed to move freely around his residence... 
Her travels through Europe are detailed in the Wikipedia entry.  At Monkeyfur it is noted that "poems and songs were written about Clara, french naval boats were named after her (Rhinocéros, not Clara) and in Paris men could have their wigs styled à la rhinocéros."
(The latter is discussed in a QI episode).

The image at right is Clara the rhinoceros (1742) Engraving by Jan Wandelaar for Bernhard Siegfried Albinus' book: Tabulae sceleti et musculorum corporis humani. Printed in Leyden by James and Henry Verbeek, 1747.

The first rhino to visit Europe was immortalized in 1515 in Durer's famous engraving:
Dürer's woodcut is not an entirely accurate representation of a rhinoceros. He depicts an animal with hard plates that cover its body like sheets of armour, with a gorget at the throat, a solid-looking breastplate, and rivets along the seams; he also places a small twisted horn on its back, and gives it scaly legs and saw-like rear quarters. None of these features is present in a real rhinoceros. Despite its anatomical inaccuracies, Dürer's woodcut became very popular in Europe and was copied many times in the following three centuries. It was regarded by Westerners as a true representation of a rhinoceros into the late 18th century. Eventually, it was supplanted by more realistic drawings and paintings, particularly those of Clara the rhinoceros, who toured Europe in the 1740s and 1750s. It has been said of Dürer's woodcut: "probably no animal picture has exerted such a profound influence on the arts".

Text from Answers.com.  And all of this via an old post at A Polar Bear's Tale.


  1. On the sources of Dürer’s rhinoceros, see this post, and the four chapters linked to it

    1. Absolutely. I bookmarked all of those links several years ago; they're in one of my folders to blog because they're the most comprehensive treatment of the subject. I had forgotten about them today, but plan to link them some time in the future.

  2. I remain amazed that the Dürer rhinoceros image has never showed up on an album cover. At least not to the best of my knowledge. Would have been perfect for some 70s German prog-rock outfit like Can or Amon Duul II.


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