A drowned rhinoceros, still being watched for 500 years

On May 20, 1515, an Indian rhino arrived in Lisbon. This is a gift from Portuguese official Alfonso de Albuquerque in Goa, India, to King Manuel I of Portugal, and Alfonso himself got the rhino from the Sultan of Gujarat, India. The Europeans had never seen a live rhino before.

The contemporary Chinese were not familiar with rhinos, but they regarded rhinos as “spiritual animals” and believed that rhinos looked cumbersome but very spiritual. Therefore, in the theory of Chinese medicine, rhinoceros dihuang decoction and other prescriptions can clear the heat . “The heart has a clear understanding” also has this meaning. But in the traditional knowledge system in Europe, rhinos are very ferocious monsters. Therefore, Manuel I’s first reaction after receiving the gift was to let rhinos and elephants have a duel to see who is more ferocious.

The experiment was scheduled for June 3, 1515. Fortunately, there were no bloody scenes in this duel, because the two animals were frightened by the crowd of onlookers, and obviously did not have the will to help solve scientific problems. They just stand at a safe distance and make occasional calls. After a while, the rhinoceros began to set foot on the spot, and the elephant rushed away at sight, so the rhino was declared the winner.

Sitting in the audience is a Moravian named Valentin Fernandez. He has lived in Lisbon for 20 years. He is a translator and book publisher. It is he who translated, printed and published the horse Ke Polo’s “Asia Travel Notes”. This kind Moravian communicated regularly with his German counterparts. After watching rhinos and elephants, he described the rhinos in a letter to his friends in Nuremberg, perhaps with a sketch of his own The impression of this beast.

It should be said that news about this strange beast spread across Europe like wildfire. Fernandez was just one of the people who spread the news. At some point in June, Fernandez’s letter fell into the hands of the painter Albrecht Dürer. Dürer was very excited. He immediately began to make woodcut paintings about rhinos. . From our perspective today, Dürer’s rhinoceros is very inaccurate. Although the accompanying text implies that it is “derived from reality,” almost everything in the painting is wrong. In Dürer’s writings, this poor animal has heavy armor on its body and a second horn in the middle of its back. In short, this monster with three toed feet and a fierce face looks nothing like the real thing. animal.

Dürer is not the only artist who paints rhinos. By the time his woodcuts appeared, some other more accurate works had been circulated on the market. In Rome in July 1515, Giovanni Giacomo Penni published a long poem about rhinos with a rough picture of the rhino on the title page. In Augsburg, the printmaker Hans Buckmeier made a print of a rhinoceros. The rhinoceros in the painting has spots on its body, leather-like skin, a hairy neck and rounded corners, and an expression of guilt. .

But Durer’s woodcut works were a big success. In a short period of time, Penny’s graffiti and the more accurate version of Bookmeyer were eclipsed, and Dürer’s work influenced people’s perception of rhinos for the next 300 years. Until the 20th century, it was still the most well-known description of rhinos.

Francis Barlow’s engraving “The Real Representation of Elephants and Rhino” (circa 1684), the rhino in it is obviously imitating Dürer’s painting method.

This can’t help but be confusing. When Dürer created this woodcut painting of rhinoceros, he was already one of the most outstanding artists at the time, and his reputation was built on his rigorous (even excessive) naturalistic expression technique. He once wrote: If you do not study nature, there can be no works of art. Dürer’s “Hare” (1502) and “The Grass” (1503) are stunning masterpieces of realism. Since he is a master of realism, why did Nadur paint such obviously inaccurate paintings? And when there are more accurate works, why are Dürer’s paintings so popular?

Follow the law naturally and follow the tradition
To answer this question, we must first understand how Dürer and his contemporaries “observed” rhinos.

Today, we believe that seeing is believing. When we observe animals, we take an objective stand and accept the appearance of animals as seen by our eyes. But when the rhinos arrived in Lisbon, things were not so simple. At that time Europe was experiencing a revolution in animal concepts. In the past, zoology research was conducted under the guidance of classical authorities, but more and more people realize that first-hand observation is also essential. The naturalist began to collect samples, take notes, and perform dissections. However, this does not mean that their observations are “objective”, nor does it mean that they must try to challenge the authority of classical writers. On the contrary, although their methods may be innovative, their research is still based on classical assumptions, and the evidence they collect is mainly used to supplement or reiterate the “authenticity” of ancient knowledge.

When the rhinos arrived in Lisbon, European intellectuals used similar methods to recognize them. People who are keen on discussing rhinos only know about this animal in the works of classical writers such as Pliny the Elder and Aristotle. Therefore, they tend to observe rhinos through the lens of reading, and then they are Knowledge to confirm. Although this Indian rhino is a fairly quiet animal and has been living in captivity before leaving India, European humanists are still obsessed with thinking that it is a “very fierce animal” that can be used in the wild. Fight with elephants. It is for this reason that after Manuel I took over his “pet”, his first reaction was to let it fight an elephant.

The same recognition is more obvious among artists. Although Fernandez wrote in the letter based on direct observation, his description has long been distorted by the influence of the classics. Since Penny, Bookmeyer, and Dürer have all read the same ancient authoritative works, they have no reason to question the descriptions they were told, and even they themselves tried to use their knowledge of classical texts to fill in the gaps in other people’s accounts. In the eyes of modern people, this seems absurd, but for them, this is the “naturalistic” method.

Does a rhino have two horns?
There are some similarities between these three paintings. Since these three artists are familiar with Pliny the old, they all took care to ensure that rhinos have “elephant feet and wild boar tails.” But what makes Dürer unique is that he goes a step further. Although Dürer’s Latin is not so proficient, he seems to have unearthed the most important meaning in Pliny the old description. If the rhino is really as ferocious as Pliny the old described, then it must have an extra layer of protection. The ancient Roman scholar Iliang once pointed out that the skin of the rhinoceros is particularly hard and can be used to replace the plough, so Dürer gave the Indian rhinoceros hard armor instead of leather-like skin, scaled jagged limbs and similar to the armor of the samurai. The neck is the same as the neck armor. Dürer did not stop there. In the process of studying classical works in depth, he discovered other details that Penny and Bookmeyer had overlooked.

In the ancient Roman writer Mattiare’s “Jian Yu”, Dürer found a paragraph describing rhinos as “double horns”. But Dürer did not realize that Mattiaar was talking about African rhinos instead of Indian rhinos, so he naturally thought that an extra horn was needed on the rhino. But since there was no room at the end of the nose, he decided to put a small spiral horn between the rhino’s shoulders. Later this horn was called “Dürer’s Trumpet”. It was foolish for us to do so, but for Dürer, it was completely logical.

Dürer’s masterpiece of naturalism “The Hare” (1502).

One of the reasons for the success of Dürermu’s painting is that he is proficient in printing technology. Dürer may be the first artist to receive most of his income from the sale of prints, and he is capable of making best-selling woodcuts. Dürer works with professional engravers to produce a large number of high-quality prints in a short period of time. Then, through agents all over Europe, they can be sold at a lower price that ordinary people can afford. According to recent estimates, the price of a rhino print may not exceed the price of a burger today.

This does not explain Dürer’s victory. After all, Bookmeyer is not a newbie in the printing industry. Although he is not as well-known as Dürer, he is still the official printer of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, and pioneered the creation of prints that cleverly used chiaroscuro to achieve great success. Therefore, Bukmei Seoul also has the ability to create best-selling paintings.

The reason why Dürer’s rhinos are so popular is that most people at the time knew about rhinos from the descriptions of classical writers, so they would think Dürer’s woodcuts were more “natural” than the woodcuts of Buckmeyer or Penney. According to this, Dürer’s prints are indeed derived from sketches. In other words, the unnaturalness of Dürer’s rhino makes it look natural.

Art historian Ernst Gombrich mentioned as early as 1960 that what an artist depicts is not what he saw, but what he knew. He subconsciously expressed a perspective and blueprint constructed based on his knowledge system.

As a result, in just a few years, Dürer’s woodcut paintings became an authority. Faithful to the classical description proves that Dürer’s depiction is based on real animals. The painting is “lifelike”, which in turn verifies the correctness of the classical description, which further improves the scientific status of the painting. One of the most influential European scholars in the 16th century, Konrad Gessner’s more than 3,000-page natural science work “History of Animals” is regarded as the original work of zoology research. The book almost completely accepts the loss Le’s rhino. Because Dürer’s rhino and classical descriptions can mutually confirm each other, Gesner has no reason to suspect that Dürer’s paintings are not “derived from reality.” Gesner used “Dürer’s trumpet” to reconcile the paintings with the obvious in ancient documents. Contradictions.

By the 1530s, Dürer’s rhinoceros had begun to spread in various forms throughout Europe. In the 1570s, weavers woven Dürer’s rhinoceros into the tapestry “Animal Park” woven for the King of Denmark. Soon after, a Dürer rhino appeared on the bronze door of Pisa Cathedral. At the same time, Durer’s rhinoceros was also carved on stone and painted on porcelain.

American artist Walton Ford’s painting “Lost Lisbon Rhino” (2008).

Durer’s rhino perfectly embodies the ferocity and tenacity described by Pliny, so Durer’s rhino is used to symbolize strength and courage. In 1536, the ruler of Florence, Alessandro de’ Medici, adopted a simplified version of Dürer’s rhinoceros as his emblem, with his motto “Non vulevo sin vencer” engraved on it. .

500 years after a rhino drowned
With the colonial expansion of Europe, people’s knowledge of Indian rhinos has gradually deepened. Between 1579 and 1758, four rhinos came to Europe from the South Asian subcontinent, and at least two of them were on tour in Europe. People have a more accurate description of the appearance of the rhino. However, Dürer’s woodcut paintings left an indelible mark on the impression of Europeans, and they are still circulating. Even people who have actually seen rhinos often rediscover the characteristics of rhinos in Dürer’s prints.

Artists also imitated Dürer. In Francis Barlow’s print “A True Representation of Elephants and Rhino” (circa 1684), the rhino in it is clearly imitating Dürer. Although the second horn has disappeared and thick skin folds have replaced the neck armor, Barlow’s rhinoceros still has similar sharp horns and armor-like skin covering the body. Until the end of the 1930s, German school textbooks still used Dürer’s rhino prints. Even today, it is still an unforgettable image, despite obvious and undeniable errors.

The rhinoceros that Fernández saw was later given to Pope Leo X by the King of Portugal. However, in February 1516, the ship carrying the rhinoceros encountered a storm on its way to Italy, and the unfortunate animal was buried on the bottom of the sea. . But this drowning rhino has been the focus of artists for 500 years. For example, in 2008, American painter Walton Ford created a work called “The Lost Lisbon Rhino” based on this. The rhinoceros depicted by Ford came to some extent from Dürer.

The story of this rhino is thought-provoking, and may be used to explain why many countries still do not want to recognize the rhino as a fragile species. More than 500 years after Durer’s rhino came to Lisbon, seeing has never been considered a fact.