The painting records a historical event, the exhibition in Europe for the carnival of 1751 of a rhinoceros that had been brought to Europe ten years previously. This was one of the few rhinoceroses that had been seen in Europe since 1515, when Dürer made his famous woodcut based on drawings of one that had been taken to Lisbon.
Longhi represents the occasion with unaffected simplicity as the showman displays the animal to a group of spectators in carnival costume, holding in one hand the horn of the animal and a whip.
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Exhibition of a Rhinoceros at Venice Print
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