Rhinoceros, Dürer

Rhinoceros, Dürer
Rhinoceros, Dürer

Today, it seems unthinkable that anyone cannot recognize an animal as characteristic as a rhinoceros, however, we have to think that throughout the Modern Age -and even more so in the Media- the ignorance of the popular class and even scholars on some issues, was rather limited. In this sense, when talking about animals from places as far away as Africa or Asia, the imagination was often combined with the almost always unlikely stories of travelers or it was even necessary to resort to sources as old as the classical historians.


Perhaps that was why, when at the beginning of 1514 Sultan Muzafar II gave the monarch of Lisbon a rhinoceros specimen from India, the animal caused a sensation; not in vain, it was the first time since the time of the Roman Empire, that an animal of these characteristics set foot on European soil. The fate of the animal turned out to be fateful since the monarch decided to give his Once the animal to Pope Leo X in order to win his favor and the animal headed for Rome. Unfortunately, the ship he was traveling on was sunk by a storm off the Italian coast and the animal perished in the shipwreck, although his body was recovered and returned to Portugal to be stuffed.

With the fascination of a strange animal added to its journey around the world, it does not seem strange that the news of its existence traveledevery corner of the European continent. In this sense, a merchant who was able to see the beast sent a letter to a colleague and artist who lived in Nuremberg, Albrecht Dürer. The artist received two letters from the merchant Valentim Fernandes telling him about the animal, the second of which also included a sketch of the beast.

As a result of the sketch sent by the merchant Dürer, he made two drawings and from the second he extracted the model to make his famous xylography in 1515. The piece that is currently exhibited in the British Museum in London was the work with the theme of one more animal copied until the 18th century when a more realistic model of a rhinoceros appeared than Dürer's.

The Renaissance artist created an extraordinary animal whose large plates look like part of medieval armor, with scaled legs and a saw-shaped hindquarters; he also added a gorget and a small horn to its back. Despite all the inconsistencies, the artist's scheme was widely copied and from his drawings, but above all from his woodcut because of its easy diffusion, other works with the same characteristics were created.

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