Clara (rhinoceros)

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Clara in Paris, life-size in front of an imaginary landscape, painted by Jean-Baptiste Oudry , 1749. Oil on canvas, 306 × 453 cm; State Museum Schwerin

Clara (* 1738 in Bengal ; † April 14, 1758 in London ) was a tame female Indian rhinoceros who became famous in the mid-18th century through a seventeen-year exhibition tour. It entered European soil in Rotterdam in 1741 and was the first rhinoceros to survive its arrival in Europe by many years.


Clara was taken in by Jan Albert Sichterman in 1738, around a month old , after her mother was killed by Indian hunters. Sighterman was director of the Dutch East India Company in Bengal . Clara became tame and was allowed to move freely in and around Sichterman's residence. In 1740, when the animal began to get too big to stay in a household, Sichterman sold the rhinoceros to Douwe Jansz Mout , captain of the Knappenhof , who returned with him to the Netherlands .

Only a few specimens had survived the attempt to transport such an animal by sea to Europe in the centuries before. It is reported that Clara survived the journey on board the sailing ship well. The rhinoceros was not yet fully grown and from an early age used to the environment with people in the house of Sichterman. It is reported that the crew supplied it with hay and oranges on board. On July 22, 1741, Clara arrived at the Knabenhoe Rotterdam.

The rarity of the animal in Europe could Douwe Mout have moved, Clara put on display . Descriptions sometimes said that the rhinoceros could live to be a hundred years old, so that a secure income opportunity seemed to open up for it. Documented in the archives of the city of Leiden in Holland is his resignation from the Dutch East India Company in 1741.

Travel preparations

Clara, the rhinoceros, 1742. Engraving by Jan Wandelaar

In Leiden there were two engravings by Clara, made by Jan Wandelaar , which only appeared in the anatomy atlas Tabulae sceleti et musculorum corporis humani by Bernhard Siegfried Albinus in 1747 . They show the still young rhinoceros with the developing horn together with a human skeleton, once from the front and once from behind. In the years before the atlas went to press, however, the two sheets were already being sold as individual pieces in Leiden and beyond, making Van der Meer's rhino known to a wider public. For Clara's travels, leaflets were also published announcing the exhibitions in the various places. A good twenty copies of them have been preserved in museums, libraries and privately. These slips of paper were always structured in the same way: in the upper half they showed a (sometimes varied) picture of the rhinoceros and underneath, according to the place and time of the event, the almost identical announcement text.

Douwe Mout also designed a special wagon for Clara's transport. Unlike the rulers of earlier centuries who let their large-caliber animal gifts, such as Soliman , the first elephant in Vienna, march through half of Europe, Douwe Mouts' business interests dictated that the exhibition be paid for and the animal on its journey from place to place Therefore not to expose the place to the gaze of the curious. In a painting by an unknown painter from Pietro Longhi's circle from 1751, which shows Clara in Venice, you can see her traveling carriage in the background: a massive wooden box with strikingly large wheels and a small window that let in light and air so that the animal was protected from irritation and at the same time hidden from view; a wooden crossbar indicates a side ramp for getting in and out. The wagon with the rhinoceros, which grew to a length of more than three meters and weighed a good two tons over the next few years, was pulled by eight horses.

Life on tour

Flyer from 1744. The depiction of the animal is based on Dürer's woodcut , but without the second horn on the back, which was mistakenly depicted there. British Museum , London

A Hamburg leaflet from 1744 with the announcement of a nasal horn, which is the second one seen in Europe and was four and a half years old , suggests shorter journeys of the Leiden animal in the north. The text refers to a “first” Rhinoceros , which was sent as a præsent by the King of Portugal to Cayser Maximilian in 1515 ; In fact, this animal, immortalized in a famous woodcut by Albrecht Dürer , was sent from Lisbon for Pope Leo X to Rome , where it did not arrive alive.

Clara's first extensive show tour through Europe with the destination Vienna began in the spring of 1746 and was, for Douwe Mout also financially, an overwhelming success, which he continued with a tour to Switzerland . A second major, continuous tour to France and Italy followed until 1751. A final trip ended with the death of the animal in London in 1758.

Berlin, Breslau and Vienna

From Leiden, Douwe Mout first drove his freight to Hanover in 1746 . There news of an ugly female animal was reported in a newspaper . A painter by the name of GL Scheitz made a watercolor of the Dutch rhinoceros in Hanover . In April of that year, Clara reached Berlin , where King Friedrich II of Prussia visited her on April 26th at the Spittelmarkt , a breathtaking visit: Douwe Mout had shown Clara on the market between the fish stalls; Fish oil served as a humectant for the rhino skin. Frederick the Great presented the showman with twelve ducats in front of the general public, to which he had another six added the next day.

The journey continued via Frankfurt an der Oder and Breslau . After a prolonged stay in Wroclaw due to persistent rainfall, where Clara was admired by many visitors, the team reached Vienna on October 30, 1746. On November 5th, a Saturday, Emperor Franz I and Maria Theresa , who had set out from Schönbrunn Palace to visit the city, attended an imperial family tour . In addition to a financial donation, Douwe Mout also received a special honor from the Imperial Highness in Vienna: he was, as Horace Walpole reported in a letter to his friend, the British envoy in Florence , Sir Horace Mann, about a Mr Van der Meer in 1750 , raised to the nobility. On November 26th, 1746 Douwe Mout van der Meer set out with his Clara from Vienna to the west.

Kassel, Strasbourg and Switzerland

Clara. Souvenir picture, sold in Mannheim in 1747, with verses by the landlady of the inn “Zum Pfau”; under the rhinoceros a picture by Douwe Mout van der Meer. Copper engraving, 44.5 × 55 cm; Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

In 1747 Clara came to Regensburg , where her stay in March is documented. From there it traveled via Freiberg in Saxony to Dresden , where it could be viewed from April 5th to 19th. Johann Joachim Kellers or one of the other modellers at the Meissen porcelain factory was probably able to take a look at it on this occasion. In any case, since the beginning of the 1750s, the Meissen rhinoceros figures are no longer based on Dürer's woodcut, but rather on Clara or one of the original images created after her. On April 19, 1747 she was August III. , Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, and the royal-electoral family presented; the tame animal was also a sensation for the princely children. Four days later, Clara was in Leipzig , just in time for the annual Easter market, which she turned into a folk festival. Contemporary reports show that various showmen disguised themselves as rhinoceros-like monsters and that the audience asked for their money back after realizing the hoax. The first poem in Europe to mention a rhinoceros was written by Christian Fürchtegott Gellert .

An invitation from Wilhelm von Hessen-Kassel , the deputy of his brother Friedrich , then brought Clara to the orangery of the Kassel Palace in the Karlsaue , where she stayed from mid-June to mid-July, this time undisturbed by the rush of visitors and under orange trees. Clara did not create any pictures or works of art during this time. The rhinoceros was welcomed at the landgrave's court as a unique trophy to impress the ruling neighbors.

In November 1747, Clara stayed in the “Zum Pfau” inn in Mannheim and over Christmas in Strasbourg , where commemorative coins were minted for her stay. In 1748 Van der Meer traveled with her to Switzerland, bearing a document from Empress Maria Theresa that granted him unrestricted freedom of movement within the Holy Roman Empire . From January to the end of March he stayed with the animal in Bern , Zurich and Basel , where for the first time it was not the showman but the city council that set the admission prices for their exhibition. Via Schaffhausen and Stuttgart , where the rhinoceros were weighed in public and Clara coins were minted, then via Augsburg , Nuremberg and (on October 3, 1748) Würzburg , Van der Meer returned to Leiden with his wagon . The fact that he used the waterway on the Rhine for the transport of Claras to Switzerland and then for the return trip is assumed to be likely based on the route according to the most favorable connections between the places.


Jean Baptiste Oudry: Clara (1749) Drawing: black chalk, heightened with white; 27.5 x 44.4 cm; British Museum , London
Unknown painter from the circle of Pietro Longhi : Rhinoceros in Venice , 1751. The painting shows Clara's traveling carriage in the background. Oil on canvas, approx. 55 × 72 cm; Collezione Banca Intesa , Vicenza
Clara in Venice, painted by Pietro Longhi , 1751. The figure on the left lifts Clara's horn. Oil on canvas, 62 × 50 cm; National Gallery , London

In 1748 Van der Meer went on a tour of France with Clara. In December 1748 he made a stop with her in Reims on the journey to Versailles , the residence of the French king, where the rhinoceros was in January 1749 by Louis XV. was received in the royal menagerie . Perhaps encouraged by the enthusiasm that existed on the occasion of the sensational event at court, Douwe Mout van der Meer offered his Clara to the king for 100,000 Écu , which was roughly three times the annual income of the high-ranking customer. Reasons for the offer are not proven. Louis XV refused.

Van der Meer and the rhinoceros left Versailles for the opening of the fair in St. Germain in Paris . They then spent five months in Paris, where Clara was a sensation: letters, poems and songs were written about her, watches and fashion items were made with her likeness and even wigs à la rhinoceros were invented. Giacomo Casanova immortalized Clara's appearance at the St. Germain fair in a scene from his memoir "Histoire de ma vie" : A marquise, unaware of the appearance of a rhinoceros, asks the cashier, who is dressed in "African clothes" at the entrance to the show booth, if he is the rhinoceros.

The court painter Jean-Baptiste Oudry , highly respected in Versailles , created a life-size portrait of Claras on a canvas almost five meters wide and around three and a half meters high, which was originally designed as part of a series of animal depictions for the menagerie in Versailles and is now in the Schwerin State Museum heard.

Drawings for this in chalk and red chalk are preserved in the holdings of the British Museum . The work not only inspired other artists to make graphics and paintings, but also provided the naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon , who had been able to inspect the animal himself in Versailles, material for an illustration in his monumental work, a Histoire naturelle, begun in 1749 .


At the end of 1749, Clara was embarked for Naples in Marseille . The embarkation was accompanied by a false report - handed down in the memoirs of the Marquis d'Argenson  - that the rhinoceros had died. Similar reports came into circulation; in the extract from the most recent world history in November 1749 there was the news that Clara had sunk in a boat off Marseilles. Another rumor, also noted by d'Argenson, said the animal drowned in a shipwreck en route to Naples, along with Van der Meer, who was trying to recover his money bags.

After landing in Naples, Van der Meer and his rhinoceros traveled on to Rome , where they arrived in March 1750. In Rome, Clara lost her horn, which was a financial loss for Van der Meer, as the audience expected a horned animal to be exhibited at the price of the entrance fee. From later observations of rhinos it can be assumed that Clara abraded the horn itself, a behavior that the animals do not show in freedom, but occasionally in captivity.

Via Bologna , where the rhinoceros arrived in August 1750 with its wagon, this time pulled by twelve oxen, and then in October via Milan the team reached Venice in January 1751 . There, Clara became an attraction during the carnival , and several portraits have come down to us from paintings by the Venetian painter Pietro Longhi and his workshop. Towards the end of the Carnival in 1751, Van der Meer and his Rhinoceros left Venice; the stocks of souvenirs that were carried with them were sold out. They returned to Leiden. A document in Leiden confirms the baptism of Elisabeth on December 5, 1751, daughter of Douwemout van der Meer and Elisabeth Snel.

Last journeys and death

From the years 1752 to 1754 there is no evidence of another tour by Van der Meers. Little is known about the following years up to 1758 either. Some reports suggest that Clara could have been to Prague, Poland and Denmark. King Frederik V of Denmark had given the rhinoceros permission to stay in Copenhagen in June 1755 ; whether it was actually displayed there is unknown. The fact that Clara had already been in London in the 1740s was proven by various English depictions from the 18th century, including one that was also translated into German by a Dr. Parsons, occasionally alleged; however, a male rhinoceros was described. It is undisputed that Van der Meer brought his Clara to London in 1758, where it was exhibited at the Horse and Groom in Lambeth . She died there on April 14, 1758, at the age of about twenty. After her death, Douwemout van der Meer returned to Leiden, after which his trace was lost.

The whereabouts of the carcass is unknown and can no longer be determined. Towards the end of the 18th century, two more rhinos were demonstrated in London. However, the old skeletons now kept in English museums can no longer be assigned. Taxidermists in the middle of the 18th century were not yet in a position to adequately preserve such a large animal in shape and natural expression , and neither would such a large body have gone unnoticed. It can be assumed that Clara was left to the researchers to dismantle.


The nose horn , copperplate engraving from: Buffon, Allgemeine Historie der Natur . Holle: Leipzig 1767; Sixth part, first volume, plate VII p. 110 f.

No living rhinos are recorded in Europe between the 3rd and 16th centuries. The eight or so specimens of the genus that had survived the sea voyage to Europe alive up to the middle of the 18th century had died after a short time in captivity, so that researchers and artists hardly had a chance to see them alive. Since the early 16th century, the image of the rhinoceros had consistently been shaped by Albrecht Dürer's widespread woodcut of a rhinoceros . Dürer had never seen a rhinoceros and, according to a description, had given him armor reminiscent of knight's armor and mistakenly a second horn on his back. For the idea of ​​the behavior of the animal, the representation in the Naturalis historia of Pliny was decisive.

Clara's exhibition changed the image of the animal in Europe. The Meissen porcelain factory subsided Clara's appearance in Dresden immediately change a decor that was the second horn. In the Frankenthal Porcelain Manufactory, Elector Carl Theodor commissioned Elector Carl Theodor around 1770 to create a representation of Clara designed by Peter Anton von Verschaffelt, which is now manufactured by the Nymphenburg Porcelain Manufactory . Drawings made in Paris and the monumental painting by Oudry, which had been exhibited in the Salon de Paris in 1750 , brought Clara into Diderot's and D'Alembert's Encyclopédie and the Histoire naturelle von Buffon. The illustrations in these works subsequently became the ideal type of rhinoceros in Europe. Descriptions of the animal in the increasingly numerous natural histories and reference works were sometimes based on the views of the living Clara until the middle of the 19th century. Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith had seen Clara in London. In his history of the earth and the living world ( A History of the Earth and Animated Nature , published posthumously from the estate in 1774), which went through several 19th-century editions, he refutes since the descriptions of Pliny relevant ideas and legends about this Animal by its own appearance; an 1816 edition contains an illustration by Clara copied from Buffon's Histoire naturelle .

The colossal painting Oudrys, which Duke Christian Ludwig II of Mecklenburg acquired to illustrate the princely menagerie along with thirteen other animal paintings from Oudry in 1750, had been rolled up and unnoticed in the warehouse for a good 150 years since the mid-19th century. In a joint project by the State Museum Schwerin and the Getty Conservation Center , the painting has been restored in Los Angeles , California, since 2003; the work took four years. In 2007 it was shown with great success in museums in Los Angeles and Houston , along with other animal paintings by the painter under the title Oudry's Painted Menagerie ; 300,000 visitors saw the exhibitions. In 2008 the painting returned to Schwerin and was presented there in the spring and summer of 2008 in an exhibition that was on view from September 2008 to January 2009 in the Kunsthalle Tübingen . The term Claramania , which was circulating on the Internet in connection with the exhibitions in the USA , was picked up by the Schwerin Zoo and used for online advertising. In 2019 a literary picture book adaptation for children was published under the title A rhinoceros named Clara .

Although documented by contemporary sources, images and later mentions, Clara did not find the interest of more recent research until the end of the 20th century. For example, in 1973 Leendert Cornelis Rookmaaker looked up the essential contemporary publications available on Clara's tours in an essay and analyzed their details. In 2000, David Quammen presented a summary of the rhino journey and its effects (German 2001), which Glynis Ridley, professor at the University of Louisville , expanded on the basis of the source research already started by Rookmaaker. The result of their investigation was first published in London in 2004 and was awarded a prize by the Institute for Historical Research at the University of London ; a German translation was published in 2008 as part of the Schwerin exhibition.


  • TH Clarke: The Rhinoceros from Dürer to Stubbs. 1515-1799 . London: Sotheby's 1986
  • Oliver Goldsmith : A history of the Earth and Animated Nature . (published posthumously 1774) Glasgow: Oliver and Son 1857; P. 529 ff.
  • The natural history of the rhinoceros suggested by Doctor Parsons in his letter to Martin Folkes, Knights and President of the Royal. English Societät written, provided with reliable illustrations, and translated from English into German by Doctor Georg Leonhard Huth . Nuremberg 1747. Abstract , 1832
  • David Quammen : The two horns of the rhinoceros. Curious and other stories about the relationship between humans and nature . Munich: Claasen 2001 (Orig .: The Boilerplate Rhino. Nature in the Eye of the Beholder . New York: Scribner 2000) ISBN 978-3-548-60382-7
  • Glynis Ridley: Clara's Grand Tour: The spectacular journey with a rhinoceros through 18th century Europe . Translated from the English by Sonja Hinte and Lucia Markendorf. Konkret Literatur Verlag, Hamburg 2008 ISBN 978-3-89458-262-3 (Orig .: Clara's Grand Tour: Travels with a Rhinoceros in Eighteenth-Century Europe . Grove Press, New York 2005, ISBN 0-87113-883-2 . Online (incomplete )
  • Leendert Cornelis Rookmaaker: Captive rhinoceroses in Europe from 1500 until 1810 . In: Bijdragen tot de Dierkunde . Volume 43, No. I 1973; Pp. 39-63. Online (incomplete): on Clara pp. 46–57; PDF
  • Ulrich Rosseaux: Freedom . Entertainment, pleasure and relaxation in Dresden (1694–1830) . Cologne: Böhlau Verlag 2007. ISBN 978-3-41200-506-1

Web links

Commons : Clara  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. The Groninger Museum provides a story of the Sichterman family on its website (left) with a portrait of Jan Albert Sichterman.
  2. ^ Glynis Ridley: Clara's Grand Tour . (2008), pp. 18-28
  3. The rear view can be seen on Commons .
  4. The German version for October 30, 1746 in Vienna can be viewed at Wikimedia Commons .
  5. ^ Glynis Ridley: Clara's Grand Tour . (2008), pp. 51-53
  6. The Dutch rhinoceros could be seen in Hamburg from November 1743 [1] to 1744 (from the date of the Hamburg leaflet).
  7. Hannover City Archives
  8. Glynis Ridley: Claras Grand Tour (2008), pp. 65-75
  9. Johann Fürchtegott Gellert (1715–1769): The poor old man . In: Fables and Stories , 1748 [2]
  10. ^ Michaela Neubert: "Jungfer Clara" - The "Dutch rhinoceros", portrayed by the court painter Anton Clemens Lünenschloß, on the market square in Würzburg. In: Tempora mutantur et nos? Festschrift for Walter M. Brod on his 95th birthday. With contributions from friends, companions and contemporaries. Edited by Andreas Mettenleiter , Akamedon, Pfaffenhofen 2007 (= From Würzburg's City and University History , 2), ISBN 3-940072-01-X , pp. 328–331
  11. ^ Bruno Rottenbach: Würzburg in the course of the year. Echter, Würzburg 1978, ISBN 3-429-00554-X , p. 52.
  12. ^ Glynis Ridley: Clara's Grand Tour . (2008), pp. 76-96; Pp. 105-121
  13. Clock with the Rhinoceros Clara, around 1750
  14. Giacomo Casanova: Story of my life . Berlin: Propylaeen Verlag 1956; P. 199f.
  15. ^ Glynis Ridley: Clara's Grand Tour . (2008), pp. 127-150
  16. ^ Glynis Ridley: Clara's Grand Tour . (2008), pp. 151-172
  17. ^ Rhino (encyclopedia entry). In: Pierer's Universal Lexicon of the Past and Present. 4th edition, publishing house by HA Pierer , Altenburg 1857–1865. 1865, accessed on May 8, 2018 (The source notes different animals at different dates , which could have been the same from Bengal .).
  18. ^ Glynis Ridley: Clara's Grand Tour . (2008), p. 173 ff .; 191-193
  19. ^ Nymphenburg: Rhinoceros Clara
  20. ^ Glynis Ridley: Clara's Grand Tour . (2008), pp. 18 ff., 100, 143 f., 150, 180 ff.
  21. Oliver Goldsmith: A History of the Earth and Animated Nature . (1816, p. 357, with Clara , who was copied from Buffon ; 1857, p. 529 ff., With commentary on footnotes )
  22. ^ According to the Getty press release , February 14, 2007
  23. ^ Report by the Getty Museum on the restoration work
  24. May 1 - September 2, 2007: Getty Museum Los Angeles; October 7, 2007 - January 6, 2008: Museum of fine Arts, Houston
  25. Focus Online , April 8, 2008; NZZ Online , June 21, 2008
  26. Kunsthalle Tübingen : The royal menagerie. Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1686–1755) and the exotic animal portrait
  27. Claramanie in Schwerin Zoo 2008 (accessed from the zoo archive on April 6, 2008)
  28. ^ "A rhinoceros named Clara" on the NordSüd Verlag website , accessed on July 19, 2019.
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on July 1, 2008 .