Rhinocerology, or the power of images

The rhinoceros of Dürer, composition by Bob Warren
or the image
of an image

(Miroslav Holub: Go and open the door)

1. The rhinoceros of the pope
2. Rhinoceros on the reverse
3. The first litter
4. The truth suppressed

We have borrowed the second part of our title from David Freedberg’s influential The power of images: Studies in the history and theory of response (1989) in which he writes about the influences exerted on our thinking, categories and values by the images around us, each having their own biography, a whole history of their ever changing meanings, effects and traditions.

In this series opened now and planned for a couple of more posts we invite our Readers to a zigzag excursion, let us call it Rhinoceros Memory Tour, in the course of which we will follow the path of one image, the picture of the rhinoceros, starting from the moment when this curious animal popped up at the horizon of the Europe of the discoveries and the first picture was made of it.

A special feature of this story is that the picture was not made of a living rhinoceros, but it was a reconstruction based on various pictorial and verbal morsels, and from the very beginning it lived a life independent of its model. The picture gave life to other pictures, these mated with other images, and established their own separate little pasture within the repertory of Renaissance images and other symbols. Occasionally a living rhinoceros also popped up. In such cases the pictures encircled the intruder with suspicion, puffed against him in a hostile manner, but in the meantime they secretly borrowed one or another detail of it, and then proclaimed in a loud voice the inexactness of all previous representations.

By the end of our excursion we will not know much more about the rhinoceros itself than at the beginning. Certainly not more than what the man of the Renaissance knew about it. But we will know a lot more about the secret life of the Renaissance images. A peculiar little jungle, this is. Mind the lianes.

The rhinoceros of Dürer, statuette by Michael Speaker