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Dürer's Rhinoceros

Five hundred years ago, Europe saw its first rhinoceros in more than a thousand years. The animal was fairly common during Roman times seen in circuses and gladiatorial events. But after the fall of the Roman Empire, rhinoceros faded away from people’s memory, becoming something of a mythical beast alongside dragons and unicorns—until one living example arrived from the Far East.

The rhinoceros was a gift from Afonso de Albuquerque, the governor of Portuguese India, to King Manuel I of Portugal. Albuquerque himself received the rhino as a diplomatic gift from Sultan Muzaffar Shah II of Cambay, the modern Indian state of Gujarat. At that time, representatives of the Portuguese monarchy and Indian sultans commonly exchanged gifts to keep the strenuous relationship between a foreign colonial power and the indigenous rulers well-oiled. In this case, Albuquerque wanted to build a fort on the island of Diu, and asked the Sultan for permission. The Sultan refused but to ease tension, gifted him the rhinoceros from his own menagerie.


© Amusing Planet, 2020.


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