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Behold the Rhinoceros

Portrait of Black Rhinoceros, Capt. W.C. Harris, “Portraits of Game & Wild Animals of Southern Africa,” London: Published for the Proprietor, 1840.

WHEN JENNIE LOVELL looks skeptically at the illustration of a rhinoceros and wonders if there really could be such a beast, she truly would have had no frame of reference for such an animal. In fact, Jennie would be lucky to live in a home that would even carry such a book of original prints, as they were time-consuming to produce and costly to procure.

In the days before wildlife photography, when travel to continents such as Asia and Africa required a bit more planning that booking your e-tickets, artists with a taste for adventure were commissioned by wealthy patrons to embark on expeditions where they would render illustrations of animals never before seen on the European continent.

Expeditions were made up of eclectic teams of explorers and thrill seekers, as well as painters and naturalists whose collective efforts to capture (both literally and in art) the exotic animals as the leopard, ostrich, and hippopotamus could take years. The illustrations would be rendered, then copied as colored plates and finally bound into enormous, rare edition books—often for fewer than one hundred patrons.

rhino title page

Frontispiece, Capt. W.C. Harris, “Portraits of Game & Wild Animals of Southern Africa,” London: Published for the Proprietor, 1840.

William Cornwallis Harris (1807-1848) led many expeditions into Africa, and was instrumental in completing a volume of such prints, Portraits of the Game and Wild Animals of Southern Africa, which had been originally commissioned nearly thirty-six years before. Here is his rendering of the two-horned rhinoceros. You might notice that the landscape is not indigenous to Africa, but more evocative of Asia, which was considered a more poetic and romantic setting.

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4 Responses

  1. Very interesting post. I love the picture of the Rhinoceros, Very, very pretty.

  2. This may be the best author site I’ve ever seen. You guys rock.

  3. I always thought that rhino looked out of place

    Matthew Smith
  4. +1 to Ayelet’s comment!

    By the way, in the rhino illo, what are those strange thickets up in the tree branches? Are those birds’ nests? If so, cool! I love me some animal architecture…


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