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Pietro Longhi, Exhibition of a Rhinoceros at Venice

Key facts
Full title Exhibition of a Rhinoceros at Venice
Artist Pietro Longhi
Artist dates 1701 - 1785
Date made probably 1751
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 60.4 × 47 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1881
Inventory number NG1101
Location Room 39
Collection Main Collection
Exhibition of a Rhinoceros at Venice
Pietro Longhi

In 1751, a rhinoceros known as Miss Clara was publicly exhibited at the Venice Carnival, creating a sensation across Europe. She was the subject of poems, paintings, tapestries, medals and sculptures; ladies even styled their hair in the shape of a horn. Pietro Longhi painted this picture around the same time.

In a rather solemn scene, Miss Clara stands in a simple enclosure, languidly munching on hay. She no longer has her horn – the showman holds it in one hand, along with a whip to encourage the animal to move for the spectators, many of whom have masked faces. The background is limited to one wooden wall, but our attention is drawn to different textures: the black lace worn by the woman in the front and the silk dresses of those behind, and the rhino’s rough, dark skin.

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