«1 Exhibition of a Rhinoceros: Iconography and Collecting in Eighteenth Century Venice Alexa Torchynowycz Thesis Mentor: Helena Szépe, Ph.D. ...»
Exhibition of a Rhinoceros: Iconography and Collecting in
Eighteenth Century Venice
Helena Szépe, Ph.D.
Professor of Art History
University of South Florida
Thesis Committee Member:
Elisabeth Fraser, Ph.D.
Professor of Art History
University of South Florida
This paper examines the painting titled The Exhibition of a Rhinoceros
(1751) by the Venetian artist Pietro Longhi and its context within the art patronage of the Venetian patrician Giovanni Grimani ai Servi. Study of the decline of Venice‟s political power during the eighteenth century, the lineage of rhinoceros imagery begun by the famous Renaissance German artist, Albrecht Dürer, and Italian collecting practices of naturalia influenced by the sixteenth century natural scientist, Ulisse Aldrovandi, were factors in the development of the thesis. Previously, many art historians have interpreted The Exhibition of a Rhinoceros as representing the “spectacle” of Venetian Carnival. This paper argues that the artist, Longhi, used compositional strategies to place himself within an artistic lineage tied to Dürer, and examines how The Exhibition of a Rhinoceros was meant to elevate the status of the collector, Grimani.
Exhibition of a Rhinoceros: Iconography and Collecting in Eighteenth Century Venice A painting of a rhinoceros (Fig. 1), now in the Ca‟ Rezzonico Museum in Venice, can serve as an example of the interests of the noble class of collectors in eighteenth century Venice. The Venetian patrician Giovanni Grimani ai Servi commissioned Pietro Longhi for the painting, which combines both art and nature in a focused view documenting the exhibition of a rhinoceros at Carnival. The image, which has come to be called The Exhibition of a Rhinoceros, depicts the Indian rhinoceros named Clara who came to Venice in 1751 as part of the Dutch captain, Douwemout Van der Meer‟s tour throughout Europe exhibiting the rhinoceros. Her appearance in Europe, organized by her owner, stirred up excitement because Europeans had only seen a handful of the species since 1513, when a rhinoceros was brought to Lisbon, Portugal.1 The German artist, Albrecht Dürer, made this previous event famous with his pen and ink drawing of a rhinoceros, which was turned into a woodcut (Fig. 2) for mass production.
Durer‟s image became a prototype upon which all other rhinoceros imagery in Europe would be based well into the eighteenth century.2 Indeed, Longhi‟s portrait of Clara was based in part on Dűrer‟s prototype. Depicting a rhinoceros The King of Portugal, Manuel I, bought the rhinoceros and intended to send it to Pope Leo X as a gift. However, the rhinoceros died en route to Rome in a shipwreck off the coast of Italy.
T.H. Clarke The Rhinoceros from Dürer to Stubbs, 1515-1799: An Aspect of the Exotic.
linked Longhi in the lineage of such imagery begun by Dürer, yet Longhi‟s choices in his painting make claims about both the artist and the collector that are different from the sixteenth century context of Dürer‟s Rhinoceros. Because of the stylistic elements of The Exhibition of a Rhinoceros and the practices of the collector, the painting acts as a stand in for an animal specimen. The painting both documents the event of a rhinoceros in Carnival as well as the interest in exotic naturalia, therefore the portrait allows the promotion of Grimani as a collector of both art and natural objects. The continued representation of rhinoceroses in art and decor, and Grimani‟s commission of The Exhibition of a Rhinoceros are results of a change in historical collecting practices. The growing trend and cultural acceptance of natural history and specimen collecting combined with the traditions of art collecting resulted in works such as The Exhibition of a Rhinoceros. In this paper I will examine Grimani‟s commission of this painting as an example of collecting trends and the desire of patricians to elevate their status during Venice‟s declining power in the eighteenth century as well as analyze Longhi‟s references to Dürer‟s print, which indicate his desire to place himself within the notable artistic lineage of Albrecht Dürer.
Venice‟s Declining Power in the Eighteenth Century and The Grand Tour By the turn of the eighteenth century, Venice struggled to maintain its land holdings and military power. Portugal and the rise of the East India Company in the Netherlands took over the majority of Venice‟s trade and out maneuvered the city-state with newer and larger ships that could hold more cargo and travel faster.3 Along with the loss of trade, Venice lost many of its land holdings in various wars at the end of the seventeenth century and by 1718 the hopes of reclaiming territories ended due to the Treaty of Passarowitz, a pact signed concluding the Austro-Turkish and Venetian-Turkish wars. The treaty forced Venice to give the Morea back to the Ottoman Empire and stop all gains on Dalmatia, firmly ending any further wars against the Ottoman Empire or possibility for future land gains. Forced into peace, Venice soon declared that it would take a determined neutrality against the wars and disputes happening across Europe, which it maintained from 1718-1797.
Beginning in the seventeenth century, Venice focused on fashioning itself as a desirable city to visit. At this time, wealthy travelers from France, Germany and especially England developed a travel itinerary through Italy that is known as the Grand Tour. The Grand Tour and the idea of tourism resulted from changing attitudes toward education. Traveling was now considered an appropriate part of education and „real-world‟ experience combined with a formal university education was desired for the elite and wealthy merchant class. A tourist of the John Julius Norwich, A HIstory of Venice. Vintage Books, 1982.
Grand Tour had a set course which included Turin, Milan, Florence, Rome, Padua, and of course, Venice. Among the primary reason of education, travelers also went on the nearly year-long tour to seek out historical sites, experience the entertainments and the arts within each city, and eat foods different from their own country.4 Venice, however, offered different sights for tourists. The city did not have ancient ruins like Rome and its University was in Padua. Its government was unique, yet it was difficult for travelers to gain entrance to meetings amongst the noble class. Venetian patricians remained private and removed from foreign travelers and yet the city depended on the income from the Grand Tour. Therefore Venice developed sensual sights. Travelers could participate in Venice‟s many celebrations including Carnival, the Sensa, St.Mark‟s Day, and Corpus Christi.
Included in the celebrations, activities such as gambling at the ridotti and consorting with prostitutes were easily available to travelers. Because access to the noble class was nearly impossible, travelers increasingly turned to pleasurable entertainments in Venice.
The Lineage of Rhinoceros Imagery in Europe from Dürer‟s Rhinoceros to the Eighteenth Century Robert C. Davis, and Garry Marvin. Venice, the Tourist Maze: A Cultural Critique of the World's Most Touristed City. University of California Press, 2004.
The Dutch captain, Douwemout van der Meer, first brought Clara to Holland in 1741. The resulting tour of Europe, organized by Van der Meer, lasted nearly twenty years (1741-1758).5 With stops in Paris, London, Rome, and Berlin, Clara arrived in Venice in 1751. Artists documented Clara throughout her tour in both commissioned work and study sketches as well as an array of decorative items including clocks, jewelry, and clothing.
The great interest in the rhinoceros can be traced back to Roman antiquity.
One of the earliest accounts of a rhinoceros was written by Pliny the Elder, an author and philosopher of the first century A.D., in his Naturalis Historia. Pliny wrote that the rhinoceros was the enemy of the elephant, and that the two would engage in battle. This depiction of the rhinoceros as an aggressive animal interested the public and soon there was a demand to see the rhinoceros and its legendary strength. However, after the collapse of the Roman Empire the rhinoceros was not seen again in Europe. The animal was consigned to myth and thought to be extinct. Interest in the exotic was bolstered through the reading and translation of Pliny during the Italian Renaissance, which once again lead to a demand to view the rhinoceros first hand. In 1513 the first rhinoceros since antiquity was brought to Europe. The Portuguese brought an Indian rhinoceros to Lisbon where it soon gained fame throughout Europe. This is the very rhinoceros that inspired Albrecht Dürer‟s woodcut The Rhinoceros made in 1515. Dürer Glynis Ridley, Clara’s Grand Tour: Travels with a Rhinoceros in Eighteenth-Century Europe.
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005.
never saw the animal, which resulted in obvious anatomical faults in the image, yet The Rhinoceros became the standard for which artists would continue to depict the rhinoceros for centuries. In the original pen and ink drawing, Dürer included an inscription which was transferred to the woodcut with slight changes.
The inscription states how the rhinoceros was brought to Portugal, a physical description and a story of the rhinoceros‟ disposition which is taken directly from Pliny‟s Natural History.6 In the year of 1513 upon the I Day of May there was brought to our King of
Lisbon such a living Beast from the East-Indies that is called Rhinocerate:
Therefore an account of its Wonderfulness I though myself obliged to send you the Representation of it. It hath the Colour of a Toad and is close covered with thick scales in size like an Elephant but lower, and is the Elephant‟s deadly Enemy; it hath on the fore part of its Nose a strong sharp Horn, and, when this Beast comes near the Elephant to fight with him, he always first whets his Horn upon the Stones; and runs at the Elephant with his Head between his fore Legs;
then rips up the Elephant where he hath the thinnest Skin, and so gores him: The Elephant is terribly afraid of the Rhinocerate; for he gores him always, whereever he meets an Elephant; for he is well armed, and is very alert and nimble. This Beast is called Rhinocero, in Greek and Latin; but, in Indian, Gomda.
From the animal‟s first appearance in Europe in 1513 until Clara‟s tour in the eighteenth century, only a handful of rhinoceroses made it to Europe and even less survived to make any tours across Europe. One appeared in Madrid (1579), two were brought to London (1684 and 1739) and then Clara was brought to Holland in 1741.7 The rhinoceros remained a highly exotic and mythic creature because so few Europeans ever saw a live one. Therefore, with every city on the Translation of German from original ink drawing into English. Clarke, Dürer to Stubbs.
Clarke, Dürer to Stubbs.
tour, Clara became more famous and her visits were highly anticipated events.
Van der Meer advertised his rhinoceros with posters (Fig. 3) in every city he stopped in, which was a tactic that had not been used for the exhibitions of rhinoceroses in the past. Van der Meer‟s advertisement of Clara can be directly linked to Dürer‟s woodcut. The image views Clara from the side with her head facing the right as is the same position of Dürer‟s rhinoceros. She has cloven toes as in the Dürer woodcut and even her skin is segmented to look like armor in nearly the exact positioning as Dürer created over two hundred years earlier. The longevity of Dürer‟s image is due to its large volume of circulation. The Dürer print ran in 1515, 1540 and 1550 with two issues in Holland from the original block in the late sixteenth century. Thousands of images were made during these runs and thousands more were created from copied blocks into the eighteenth century.8 Van der Meer parlayed the popularity of Dürer‟s woodcut into the advertisement for Clara. An inscription, similar to Dürer‟s original ink drawing, accompanied the posters, in which Van der Meer includes Pliny‟s description of the rhinoceros‟ battle with the elephant. Not only did these posters promise an exotic animal, they promised a live version of Dürer‟s woodcut and an animal of antiquity.
Clarke, Dürer to Stubbs.
The Early Development of Collecting Naturalia in Italy: Ulisse Aldrovandi Ulisse Aldrovandi, an early Italian naturalist from Bologna, created one of the first botanical gardens in Europe and was highly influential in the collecting practices of Grimani and other Venetian and Italian collectors. These collectors followed Aldrovandi‟s cataloguing examples which were detailed in Aldrovandi‟s many books on natural history and were easily accessible in Venice. In 1572, Aldrovandi encountered a “most fearsome dragon unlike any reptile he‟d seen”9 in Italy. He created an image of the fabled beast (Fig. 4) and distributed it amongst nobility and high ranking clergy including Pope Gregory XIII. Although it is not clear if Aldrovandi ever possessed the physical dragon in his collection, his experience and his ownership is expressed in the distribution of the dragon‟s image. With every person that saw the drawing, Aldrovandi‟s legitimacy as a naturalist grew. Though the dragon was never proven to be real, Aldrovandi‟s reputation of having seen and documented the dragon was absolute. Along with the distribution of the image came the distribution of knowledge and the beginnings of an interest in the oddities of nature.
With the Pope‟s approval of his sighting, Aldrovandi opened the way for curiosity to be considered a worthwhile practice. The scientific study of nature and its subsequent collecting of specimens found its place in the collections of Paula Findlen, Possessing Nature: Museums, Collecting and Scientific Culture in Early Modern Italy, Berkeley, 1996.