Rhinoceros in profile to left. 1515 Pen and brown ink
- Height: 274 millimetres
- Width: 420 millimetres
Inscription ContentInscribed by the artist in brown ink along the upper edge, “RHINOCERON 1515” and along the lower edge with a note probably transcribed from a newsletter: “Ite[m] in 153 jor adi i maÿ hat man unserm küng van portigall gen lisabona procht ein sold lebedig tir aws India das nent man Rhynocerate das hab ich dir von Wunders wegen müssen abkunterfet schicken hat ein farb wÿ ein / krot vnd van dicken schaln überleg fast fest vnd ist in d[e]r gros als ein helffant aber nÿdrer vnd ist des helfantz tott feint es hat for[n] awff der nasen ein starck scharff hore[n] und so dz tir an helfant Kumt mit jm zw fechten so hat es for albeg sein / hore[n] an den steinen scharbff gewestzt vnd lauff dem helfant mit dem Kopff zwischen dy fordere[n] pein dan reist es den helfant awff wo er am düsten hawt hat vnd erwürgt jn also der helfant fürcht jn ser übell den Rhÿnocerate dan er erwürgt jn albeg wo er den helfant aukumt dan er ist woll gewapent vnd ser freidig und behent D[a]z tir würt Rhinocero in greco et latino Indico vero gomda“
“In the year 153 [this should read 1515] on 1 May was brought to our King of Portugal in Lisbon such a living animal from India called a Rhinocerate. Because it is such a marvel I considered that I must send this representation. It has the colour of a toad and is covered all over with thick scales, and in size it is as large as an elephant, but lower, and is the deadly enemy of the elephant. It has on the front of the nose a strong sharp horn: and when this animal comes near the elephant to fight it always first whets its horn on the stones and runs at the elephant with his head between its forelegs. Then it rips the elephant where its skin is thinnest and then gores it. The elephant is greatly afraid of the Rhinocerate; for he always gores it whenever he meets an elephant. For he is well armed, very lively and alert. The animal is called rhinocero in Greek and Latin but in India, gomda”
Inscribed on the verso, in the lower left-hand corner, by a later hand in brown ink, “rhinoceros”.
This is Dürer’s preparatory study for his famous woodcut of a rhinoceros of 1515 (Meder 273) of which there is an impression of the first state in the collection (see 1895,0122.714). Dürer's image shows the first rhinoceros to reach Europe alive since the third century AD, and although much of its appearance is fanciful, it is thought to represent an extinct species of Indian rhinoceros (see J.L. Koerner in 'Dürer and his Legacy', 2002, p.31 ). It must have been the subject of great interest when it arrived in Portugal. The rhinoceros had been presented by the ruler of Gujarat, Sultan Muzafar II to the governor of Portuguese India, Alfonso d’Albuquerque, who sent it on to King Manuel I in Lisbon, where it arrived on 20 May 1515. The king determined to put to the test Pliny the elder’s description of a natural animosity between the rhinoceros and the elephant, and arranged a fight to take place between the recent arrival and one of his elephants on 3 June 1515. The elephant fled. Later in the year, the king despatched the animal as a gift to Pope Leo X in Rome, but, after breaking the journey at Marseilles, where it was seen by King Francis I of France and his queen, it drowned when the ship sank. One account states that its carcase was retrieved and stuffed on arrival in Italy. Dürer never saw the animal himself, and it is likely that he based this drawing, and the lively inscription underneath giving details about the rhinoceros, on an account in a Portuguese newsletter which was sent to the Nuremberg community of merchants by Valentin Ferdinand, a Moravian printer and publisher of geographical works working in Lisbon (an Italian transcript of Ferdinand's report is in the Biblioteca Nazionale, Florence, see Schoch 2002, p.424, n.3). The report would probably have been accompanied by some sketches of the animal, which have not survived.
Lit. from J. Rowlands, Drawings by German Artists and Artists from German- speaking regions of Europe in the Department of Prints and and Drawings at the British Museum: the Fifteenth Century, and the Sixteenth Century by Artists born before 1530, London, BM Press, 1993, no.195: Heller, p. 48; Hausmann, Naumann's Archiv, p. 33, no. 1; Hausmann, p. 106, no. 1; Thausing, ii, pp. 124f; Lippmann, part xxiii, p. 10, no. 257, repr.; Conway, p. 35, no. 643; Pauli, p. 26, no. 725; BM Guide, 1928, p. 24, no. 230; Flechsig, Dürer, ii, p. 328; Tietze, ii, p. 114, no. 639, repr.; Winkler, Dürer, iii, pp. 64f., no. 625, repr.; Panofsky, ii, p. 131, no. 1347; Rupprich, i, p. 208, no. 57; Winkler, Leben, p. 263; Rowlands, Dürer, p. 33, no. 211; T.H. Clarke, Connoisseur, clxxxiv, 1973, pp. 3ff., repr.; Strauss, iii, p. 1584, no. 1515/57, repr.; BM Animals in Art, pp. 127f.; Clarke, Rhinoceros, pp. 20, 181, no. 1, repr.; BM Dürer and Holbein, pp. 92f., no. 65, repr.
Further lit: D. Eichberger, 'Dürer's nature drawings and early collecting', in 'Dürer and his Culture', edited by D. Eichberger and C. Zika, Cambridge, 1998, pp.16f, fig.2.1, repr.; G.Bartrum, 'Dürer and his Legacy', London, British Museum, exhibition catalogue, 2002, no. 242; R.Schoch in 'Albrecht Dürer. Das druckgraphische Werk' Band II, 'Holzsnitte und Holzschnittfolgen, Munich, 2002, p.421, under no. 241.
German Roy XVIc
1928 BM London, Guide Woodcuts, Drawings of A. Dürer, no. 230
1960 BM, Sloane Drawings, (no cat.) 1971 BM, Dürer, no.211 1978/9 Dec-Feb, BM, cat. no 173 1988 Jul-Oct, BM, Age of Dürer & Holbein, no.65 1990 Apr-Aug, BM, Treasures of P&D (no cat.) 2002/3 Dec-Mar, BM, Albrecht Dürer and his Legacy, no. 242
2006 1 Jul-Sep, BM, Masterpieces of the British Museum BBC series
2010 Sept - December, BM, History of the World
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Object reference number: PDO3488
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