Clara sparked a hype in 18th-century Europe. The rhinoceros was marvelled at, studied, mocked and marketed like few animals before her.
A new exhibit at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, which opened on Friday, is dedicated to what can easily be described as the world’s most famous rhino.
”Clara was a wonder for science and a muse for artists,” said museum director Taco Dibbits during a presentation of the exhibition, which comprises more than 60 paintings, drawings, sculptures and objects from museums around the world which highlight the animal’s significance and her story.
Born in India, Clara was gifted to a Dutch captain who brought her to Amsterdam in 1741 and started showing her off to the world. For about 17 years, the rhino and her owner travelled across Europe, where she was showed off for a fee at fairs, princely courts and festivals.
”Clara was strange and new, huge and awe-inspiring – she was utterly unlike any other known animal,” the museum explains the animal’s overwhelming allure at the time.
A truly cosmopolitan rhino, Clara travelled from Vienna to Copenhagen, from Augsburg to Paris and Venice to Naples. And everyone wanted to catch a glimpse. People bought Clara-themed souvenirs, including coins, lamps, vases and clocks, and she inspired many poems and paintings.
The exhibit’s showpiece is a life-size painting of Clara by French artist Jean-Baptiste Oudry. After seeing her in Paris, he painted the rhino – aged 11 at the time and measuring 3.5 metres in length and 1.7 metres in height at a weight of 2,500 kilogrammes – in 1749.
The first-ever depiction of a rhinoceros, a print by German artist Albrecht Dürer from 1515, is also on display. Dürer had actually never seen a rhino when creating his work.
Clara returned to the Netherlands in 1756. A painting by Dutch artist Cornelis van Noorde captures an exhausted-looking animal after years of stress in captivity.
At no point in her life was Clara allowed to enjoy the company of other rhinos, but spent the years being stared at by humans. In Amsterdam, she was briefly allowed to rest on a field, before being sold again. The world’s most famous rhino died soon afterwards in London, in 1758.
”Clara the Rhinoceros” runs in the Rijksmuseum from September 30 to January 15. © dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH