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«1 Exhibition of a Rhinoceros: Iconography and Collecting in Eighteenth Century Venice Alexa Torchynowycz Thesis Mentor: Helena Szépe, Ph.D. ...»

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nobility in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century with the development of menageries and early natural history museums. By the eighteenth century, most nobility reserved part of their private collections to natural objects. With the development of a new type of collecting came a regiment of what someone should collect and how the collector should be. These new naturalists kept their collections in private rooms or studiolo. Most kept small botanical specimen or engravings and maps and very few studiolo resembled the extreme cabinets of curiosities in which entire rooms contained stuffed specimens mounted on walls.

The collector catalogued each specimen in his collection and his choices in collecting showed the collector‟s interest in nature. This interest is described as a healthy wonderment and most collector‟s preferred to wonder at their collections rather than make scientific inquiries into anatomy or physiology. As a collector of natural objects, Grimani could organize a collection that would represent an ordered world, a nature that could be made intelligible by the collector‟s mind and his practice.10 Also, the act of turning a natural object (a rhinoceros) into a painted image allowed the collector to maintain the object over a long period of time, thus adding value to the image created.11 Though naturalism gained momentum in the eighteenth century, Venetian patricians, as well as other collectors and nobility, still commissioned and Eric Baratay and Elisabeth Hardoui-Fugier. Zoo: A History of Zoological Gardens in the West.

Reaktion, 2002.

Francis Haskell. Patrons and Painters: A Study in the Relations between Italian Art and Society in the Age of the Baroque. Yale University Press, 1980.

collected art. In the eighteenth century, the collecting of painted images was a near requirement of all patricians. As a result of Venice‟s declining power, the Church commissioned less work and more artists turned to private collectors for commissions.12 Also, the increase in foreigners due to the Grand Tour changed the way work was exhibited. Many collections were strictly private and only accessible to the collector and other noble Venetian families. Foreigners were required to be explicitly invited to view a patricians collection and many works in churches and other public spaces were off limits to travelers as well.13 Another change in commissions was the subject matter of paintings. Genre scenes became increasingly popular in collections because of the perception that genre artists, including Pietro Longhi, rendered true to life scenes of the Venetian nobility. 14 Pietro Longhi and The Exhibition of a Rhinoceros: Interpretations and Iconography Pietro Longhi became a popular artist amongst the Venetian nobles during the eighteenth century. He is primarily known for his genre scenes or scenes of Venetians and their pleasures. Families of nobility, such as Barbarigo, Sagredo, Haskell, Patrons and Painters.

Davis and Marvin. Venice, the Tourist Maze.

Jane Martineau, and Andrew Robison. The Glory of Venice: art in the eighteenth century. Yale University Press, 1994.

Mocenigo, and Ruzini, flocked to Longhi. His patrons considered his paintings to be true to life and to accurately capture the life of contemporary Venetians. With the decline of Venice‟s political power, genre took on new significance in the collections of the Venetian noble class.15 Giovanni Grimani, of the family branch called „ai Servi‟ sought out Longhi‟s specific style when he commissioned The Exhibition of a Rhinoceros. Longhi even „attached‟ a proclamation of his documentation of Clara at Carnival with an inscription painted in trompe l‟oeil which states, “A true portrait of the rhinoceros brought to Venice in 1751 and painted by Pietro Longhi as a commission from the nobleman Giovanni Grimani dei Servi: Venetian Patrician.” Longhi made a second painting nearly identical to Grimani‟s for Girolamo Mocenigo, now in the National Gallery in London.

Many interpretations have been made concerning Pietro Longhi and his work. As of late, art historians believe that the Exhibition of a Rhinoceros contrasts the exotic Clara, who is docile and simple in the painting, with the depravity of Carnival behavior, shown in the masked figures viewing Clara.16 The figures both view and are being viewed by the spectator and only Clara remains unmoved by either action. Glynis Ridley argues that the painting is a comment on the way which men and women display themselves to be looked at. Also, that Clara‟s captivity is a reflection of the social captivity of the woman seen at the Philip L. Sohm. “ Pietro Longhi and Carlo Goldoni: Relations between Painting and Theater.” Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 1982.

Howard Jacobsen. “A Masque of Venice.” Modern Painters, Vol. 7, 1994.

center of the painting. The woman is un-masked and looks out at the viewer, yet she is mute, like Clara.17 These recent interpretations suggest Longhi‟s work, long considered to be simple, straightforward representations of everyday life, to be layered with meaning. I believe The Exhibition of a Rhinoceros was Longhi‟s way of inserting himself within the lineage of imagery created by Dürer over two hundred years earlier. Longhi‟s portrait of Clara is presented as a true, documentary likeness (it even includes a pile of dung), which is carefully rendered and contains intricate details of costume, yet Longhi did not make his painting a scientific exploration of animal anatomy, which could be found in many natural history books being printed at the time. Instead, Longhi focused on creating a more artistic version. He fixes some obvious anatomical faults in the woodcut, but the simplicity rendered to Clara specifically makes the image a painting and not an exploration of the animal‟s anatomical form. Also, the trompe l‟oeil proclamation is in keeping with the tradition of Dürer‟s woodcut inscription. Clara is in the same stance as the Dürer image and she maintains the segmentation of her body which begun with Dürer and was continued in subsequent rhinoceros imagery. Longhi echos Dürer‟s prototype of a rhinoceros and the similarities tie Longhi as an artist to Dürer.





Longhi‟s desire to be linked with Dürer can be attributed to Longhi‟s “failure” as a history painter. Originally, Longhi trained as a history painter, but Ridley, Clara’s Grand Tour he was soon recommended to Giuseppe Maria Crespi, a Bolognese artist who was known for his genre scenes.18 Longhi followed in painting scenes of the everyday lives of Venetian nobility. This demotion from history to genre painting was seen as a result of Longhi‟s lack of skill for rendering large scale figures and thus was considered a failed history painter.19 The Exhibition of a Rhinoceros can be seen as Longhi‟s attempt to increase his reputation as an artist due to the painting‟s obvious reference to Dürer. Longhi quoted the well known and well regarded Dürer through the use of rhinoceros imagery, then Longhi rendered the painting in such a way that it could be considered more “artistic” than Dürer‟s. Longhi made specific decisions, such as correcting the rhinoceros‟ form and placing the figures in a pyramidal composition, which increased the artistic status of the artist.

Not only does The Exhibition of a Rhinoceros make claims about the artist, it also marks Grimani as a collector of both art and nature. The painting depicts an exotic animal that Grimani could marvel at for its strangeness, but the artist‟s decisions in rendering the rhinoceros make it more artistic rather than scientific. The combination of art and naturalism allow Grimani to claim himself both as a collector of art and as a collector of the exotic. Longhi‟s portrait of Clara could fit into both categories. It was a work done by a well known Venetian artist and it documented an exotic animal directly from nature.

Haskell, Patrons and Painters.

Sohm, “Pietro Longhi and Carlo Goldoni.” Conclusion Pietro Longhi‟s painting The Exhibition of a Rhinoceros references Albrecht Dürer‟s woodcut of a rhinoceros. Longhi, as a genre artist, wanted to insert himself in a lineage of artists that included Dürer. Longhi depicted the rhinoceros in the same stance as the Dürer woodcut. He attempted to make adjustments to the image and render the animal more natural by correcting some of the anatomical faults seen in Dürer‟s image, yet Longhi‟s painting was commissioned as an art piece and not a scientific representation. The decline of Venice‟s power furthered the hostility between the Venetian noble class and the foreign travelers in the city, therefore influencing the collecting practices of the patricians. Private commissions increased and the collecting of naturalia bacame a common practice amongst the nobility. Giovanni Grimani commissioned the painting as a way to both collect art and nature, which resulted in elevating his status amongst the Venetian nobility. The Exhibition of a Rhinoceros shows the combination of collecting both art and nature, and the artistic lineage of rhinoceros imagery from Albrecht Dürer to Pietro Longhi.

–  –  –

1 Pietro Longhi, Exhibition of a Rhinoceros, 1751, oil on canvas, 24 in. x

18.5 in. Ca‟ Rezzonico, Venice 2 Albrecht Dürer, Rhinoceros, 1515, woodcut on paper, 10 in. x 12.5 in.

British Museum, England 3 Rhinocerot, 1749, woodcut on paper, 9.2 in. x 13.6 in. Paris, Private collection 4 Ulisse Aldrovandi, The Dragon of 1572, from Aldrovandi, Tavole di animali, Biblioteca Universitaria, Bologna, IV, fig. 130

–  –  –

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