This impressive scagliola panel and its pendant, the next lot, depict Albrecht Dürer's Rhinocerus (Rhinoceros) of 1515. The present panel is almost identical to the woodcut, of which an example is in the British Museum (inv. no. 1895,0122.714). Dürer's preparatory drawing for the Rhinoscerus can also be found in the British Museum (inv. no. SL,5218.161); in the drawing the beast faces in the opposite direction, as in the next lot.
Dürer's Rhinocerus became the standard representation of the animal in western literature for the next three hundred years. It represents the rhinoceros that was sent as a diplomatic gift from Sultan Muzafar II, ruler of Gujarat, to the governor of Portuguese India, who duly sent it to King Manuel I in Lisbon. The creature, which was the first rhinoceros to reach Europe since the 3rd century AD, became a gift for a third time when it was sent to Pope Leo X; it unfortunately drowned when the ship transporting it to Rome sank. Dürer is thought to have based his study on contemporary Portuguese accounts and sketches. Given that he had never seen a rhinoceros, the level of anatomical accuracy is astonishing.
Scagliola, a technique perfected in Tuscany during the 17th and 18th centuries, is produced by reducing a mineral stone, selenite, to a powder and mixing it with pigments and animal glue. A design is engraved into a scagliola matrix and the composite material is then poured into the resulting lacunae. Masters of scagliola often used prints as inspiration for their designs. See for example the 18th-century relief sold in these rooms on 12 December 2001, lot 110, with wild beasts taken from Phillip Galle's Venationes Ferarum, Avium, Piscium after Jan van der Straet's hunting series (British Museum, inv. no. 1957,0413.241). The present reliefs would have appealed to the same taste and would have enabled the scagliola workers to use their favoured colour scheme of black, grey and white.
G. Bartrum, Dürer and his Legacy, exhib.cat. British Museum, London, 2002, no. 243