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Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
This woodcut of an Indian rhinoceros by Dürer has proved endlessly popular since its first publication in 1515. Eight editions of the print were taken from the original woodblock over the course of a century or so; this impression is one of a large number printed in the sixteenth century, after Dürer’s death. Over the next two centuries many artists used it as a model for their own depictions of the animal.
The text at the head of the print explains that the animal shown is that sent from Goa to Portugal for King Manuel I. The Portuguese king sent the animal on as a gift to the Pope, but it drowned when the boat it was travelling in sunk en route. The rhinoceros was the first to arrive in Europe for centuries and caused a sensation. Dürer did not see the animal itself, but appears to have based his surprisingly accurate depiction on descriptions and images of the beast which arrived in Nuremberg. His preparatory drawing for the woodcut, which includes his handwritten description, is in the British Museum.
Catalogue entry adapted from 'The Northern Renaissance. Dürer to Holbein', London 2011