Exhibition of a rhinoceros at Venice | Pietro Longhi | 1751
No historical introduction for Pietro Longhi. I’ll just say that he was a Venetian artist that used to paint interior everyday life scenes of the local upper class.
If you ask me, a clear contrast with the previous post. Millet vs Longhi. The first, socially concerned by the work environment of the peasants, made out of his work a revolution; the latter, on the contrary, painted canvases completely lacked of meaning, with the only intention to surprise the wealthy wife with his witty humor.
This painting belongs to the rococo movement, which means a style that expressed fundamentally in architecture and interior design for the upper class. Curves and over-ornamentation are unmistakable characteristics of this movement. And, in case it doesn’t show, I hate rococo. I hate it. It is stronger than me.
However, if possible, I’m going to try to rescue what’s left of objectivity from me to explain you the story behind this painting.
Like every year, Venice had its carnival. But the one from 1751 had a curiosity: Clara, the rhinoceros, brought to Venice by a Dutch sea captain named Douvemont van der Meer. Exhibition of a rhinoceros at Venice was a painting commended to Longhi by an aristocratic family. In it, we see Clara locked, eating from a straw bale. Seven spectators, some with carnival masks, watch the show while the keeper holds Clara’s horn along with a whip.
I have to say it: Clara doesn’t look like a rhinoceros. She looks more like a pig mixed with an overweight rottweiler. And, if the keeper has a horn that size in his hand, we would be talking of an adult rhinoceros, but this one is less than 4 feet tall…
It doesn’t matter, to be fair; I think that looking at Longhi’s whole work, this canvas from today is the most entertaining of all. And this because of its weirdness: it depicts a strange and uncommon situation, where we can’t help to feel sorry for the lop-eared Clara.