Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Biblioteca Casanatense

The Biblioteca Casanatense welcomes curious visitors into this perfect example of a grand, early 18th century library.  Cardinal Casanate began the public library in 1701 over the stables of a Dominican monastery. The library grew over time from 25,000 to 400,000 volumes, including about 6,000 manuscripts, 2,200 incunabula (books printed between 1451 and 1500), banned books from the Inquisition, and even some of Albrecht Durer’s woodcuts.

Biblioteca Casanatense

Durer's Rhinoceros Woodcut

Dürer's Rhinoceros is the name commonly given to a woodcut executed by German painter and printmaker Albrecht Dürer in 1515. The image was based on a written description and brief sketch by an unknown artist of an Indian rhinoceros that had arrived in Lisbon earlier that year. Dürer never saw the actual rhinoceros, which was the first living example seen in Europe since Roman times. In late 1515, the King of Portugal, Manuel I, sent the animal as a gift for Pope Leo X, but it died in a shipwreck off the coast of Italy in early 1516. A live rhinoceros was not seen again in Europe until a second specimen, named Abada, arrived from India at the court of Sebastian of Portugal in 1577, being later inherited by Philip II of Spain around 1580.

Dürer's woodcut is not an entirely accurate representation of a rhinoceros. He depicts an animal with hard plates that cover its body like sheets of armour, with a gorget at the throat, a solid-looking breastplate, and rivets along the seams. He places a small twisted horn on its back, and gives it scaly legs and saw-like rear quarters. None of these features are present in a real rhinoceros. Despite its anatomical inaccuracies, Dürer's woodcut became very popular in Europe and was copied many times in the following three centuries. It was regarded by Westerners as a true representation of a rhinoceros into the late 18th century. 

No comments: