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Johann Dietrich Findorff after Jean-Baptiste Oudry, Wikimedia // Public Domain
Johann Dietrich Findorff after Jean-Baptiste Oudry, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Clara, the 18th-Century Rhinoceros Who Became a Sensation

Johann Dietrich Findorff after Jean-Baptiste Oudry, Wikimedia // Public Domain
Johann Dietrich Findorff after Jean-Baptiste Oudry, Wikimedia // Public Domain

For over two centuries, Europeans pictured the rhinoceros as more of a battering ram than an animal. The misconceptions are somewhat understandable, since there were no living rhinos around, and the widely distributed 1515 woodcut by Albrecht Dürer largely defined the beast for the European imagination. The print, created from a written description only, showed a rhinoceros in profile, seemingly dressed for war and with a misplaced horn on its back. A German inscription atop the work was based on an account by first-century Roman author Pliny the Elder, and claimed that the "fast, impetuous, and cunning" rhinoceros was "the mortal enemy of the elephant."

Albrecht Dürer's 1515 woodcut of a rhinoceros
Albrecht Dürer, The Metropolitan Museum of Art // Public Domain

Everything changed in July of 1741, when a real rhinoceros arrived in Rotterdam. Miss Clara, as she was eventually nicknamed, was an Indian rhinoceros who caused almost two decades of "rhinomania" as she traveled throughout Europe. She delighted nobles in the great European courts, and wowed ordinary citizens in small towns. In France, Italy, Germany, England, Switzerland, and Austria, artists captured her tough skin and gentle eyes; she was immortalized in clocks and commemorative medals; poets wrote verses to her, and musicians composed songs. In Paris, women styled their hair à la rhinocéros, with ribbons or feathers simulating a horn atop their heads. Everywhere she went, Clara caused a sensation.

Her journey began in 1738, when her mother was killed in India. As a baby, she became a house pet of Jan Albert Sichtermann, a director of the Dutch East India Company, at his estate near modern-day Kolkata, until she got a bit big for such domesticity [PDF]. In the 2005 book Clara's Grand Tour: Travels with a Rhinoceros in Eighteenth-Century Europe, Glynis Ridley describes how Dutch sea captain Douwemout Van der Meer acquired Clara in 1740. Following a long voyage from India to the Netherlands, Van der Meer kept her alive for years beyond the then-average lifespan for captive rhinoceroses (despite feeding her a diet that included large quantities of beer). He became her caretaker, manager, and tireless hype man.

“Had Van der Meer left behind a journal, generations of readers could have looked over his shoulder as he wrestled with the practicalities of owning and transporting the heaviest land animal on the planet,” Ridley writes in Clara’s Grand Tour. “The nature of his problems can be gauged, however, from an account of the attempted transportation of a rhinoceros within France in 1770. For a single journey transporting a male rhinoceros from Lorient to Versailles, the French government paid for two days of work by carpenters, 36 by locksmiths, 57 by blacksmiths and 72 by a team of wheelwrights. (Despite all this, the resulting wagon still collapsed en route and many more man hours were required to get the male rhinoceros back on the road.)”

In other words, most rhinos traveling Europe did not fare well. The animal on which Dürer based his woodcut drowned in a 1516 shipwreck off the Italian coast; a rhinoceros brought to Lisbon around 1579 lived only a few years. By some reports, its eyes were gouged out after it tipped a carriage of royal guests in Madrid. Yet Van der Meer accounted for rest in Clara’s busy schedule, and although he was entrepreneurial with the media blitz of posters that preceded each of her stops, he took the utmost care with her travel. For instance, she was never led by a ring in her nose, as was long practiced with large animals like bulls, and she was transported from city to city in a huge wooden coach pulled by eight horses.

A 1747 etching of Clara the rhinoceros
H. Oster, Wikimedia // Public Domain

From bronze sculptures to porcelain curios, Clara was celebrated in art at a level usually reserved for royalty. In a life-size 1749 portrait by French artist Jean-Baptiste Oudry, she stands regally in a rustic landscape; a 1747 etching (above) presents her against a sprawling background where dark-skinned figures, palm trees, and a scene of a rhino goring an elephant all reinforce her exoticism. A 1751 painting by Pietro Longhi, now at the National Gallery in London, has a crowd of masked Venetians watching Clara. One woman wears a Moretta mask, known as a “mute mask” as it has no mouth, and seems to be regarding the viewer instead of this celebrity creature, perhaps asking who is being exhibited.

Clara even appeared in an influential 18th-century anatomical atlas: Bernhard Siegfried Albinus’s 1747 Tabulae Sceleti et musculorum corporis humani. Its illustrator, Jan Wandelaar, was among the earliest artists to depict Clara, and thus one of the first to represent an anatomically correct rhinoceros. In two engravings, she appears behind flayed corpses, both the rhinoceros and the dissected humans representing the cutting edge of anatomical understanding.

A print of Clara the rhinoceros and a skeleton by Jan Wandelaar for Albinus's atlas
Jan Wandelaar, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Clara died in April 1758 in London, 20 years after being captured in India. While wild rhinos often live into their thirties, and captive ones a bit longer, Clara had lived far longer, and traveled much farther, than was usual for an exotic animal in the 18th century. Oddly, with all her fame, there’s no clear cause of death, or record of what became of her remains. There are also no reports of public mourning for this international star. Yet through the surviving Clara memorabilia and art, we can still witness how she radically transformed Europe’s idea of what a rhinoceros could be.

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Martin Wittfooth
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Art
The Cat Art Show Is Coming Back to Los Angeles in June
Martin Wittfooth
Martin Wittfooth

After dazzling cat and art lovers alike in 2014 and again in 2016, the Cat Art Show is ready to land in Los Angeles for a third time. The June exhibition, dubbed Cat Art Show 3: The Sequel Returns Again, will feature feline-centric works from such artists as Mark Ryden, Ellen von Unwerth, and Marion Peck.

Like past shows, this one will explore cats through a variety of themes and media. “The enigmatic feline has been a source of artistic inspiration for thousands of years,” the show's creator and curator Susan Michals said in a press release. “One moment they can be a best friend, the next, an antagonist. They are the perfect subject matter, and works of art, all by themselves.”

While some artists have chosen straightforward interpretations of the starring subject, others are using cats as a springboard into topics like gender, politics, and social media. The sculpture, paintings, and photographs on display will be available to purchase, with prices ranging from $300 to $150,000.

Over 9000 visitors are expected to stop into the Think Tank Gallery in Los Angeles during the show's run from June 14 to June 24. Tickets to the show normally cost $5, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting a cat charity, and admission will be free for everyone on Wednesday, June 20. Check out a few of the works below.

Man in Garfield mask holding cat.
Tiffany Sage

Painting of kitten.
Brandi Milne

Art work of cat in tree.
Kathy Taselitz

Painting of white cat.
Rose Freymuth-Frazier

A cat with no eyes.
Rich Hardcastle

Painting of a cat on a stool.
Vanessa Stockard

Sculpture of pink cat.
Scott Hove

Painting of cat.
Yael Hoenig
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Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images
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Animals
How a Pregnant Rhino Named Victoria Could Save an Entire Subspecies
Sudan, the last male member of the northern white rhino subspecies, while being shipped to Kenya in 2009
Sudan, the last male member of the northern white rhino subspecies, while being shipped to Kenya in 2009
Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images

The last male northern white rhino died at a conservancy in Kenya earlier this year, prompting fears that the subspecies was finally done for after decades of heavy poaching. Scientists say there's still hope, though, and they're banking on a pregnant rhino named Victoria at the San Diego Zoo, according to the Associated Press.

Victoria is actually a southern white rhino, but the two subspecies are related. Only two northern white rhinos survive, but neither of the females in Kenya are able to reproduce. Victoria was successfully impregnated through artificial insemination, and if she successfully carries her calf to term in 16 to 18 months, scientists say she might be able to serve as a surrogate mother and propagate the northern white rhino species.

But how would that work if no male northern rhinos survive? As the AP explains, scientists are working to recreate northern white rhino embryos using genetic technology. The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research has the frozen cell lines of 12 different northern white rhinos, which can be transformed into stem cells—and ultimately, sperm and eggs. The sperm of the last northern white male rhino, Sudan, was also saved before he died.

Scientists have been monitoring six female southern white rhinos at the San Diego Zoo to see if any emerge as likely candidates for surrogacy. However, it's not easy to artificially inseminate a rhino, and there have been few successful births in the past. There's still a fighting chance, though, and scientists ultimately hope they'll be able to build up a herd of five to 15 northern white rhinos over the next few decades.

[h/t Time Magazine]

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