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Miss Clara and the Celebrity Beast in Art, 1500–1860

Miss Clara and the Celebrity Beast in Art, 1500–1860


This book tells the fascinating story of the rhinoceros Miss Clara, the most famous animal of the eighteenth century. It accompanies the first ever major loan exhibition devoted to Clara and celebrity pachyderms in the UK and will offer a significant contribution to scholarship on the subject. The latest in the Barber’s acclaimed object-in- focus series, Miss Clara focuses on a small bronze sculpture of a rhinoceros, and also considers other celebrity beasts, the emergence of menageries and zoos, and the significance of the capture and captivity of these big beasts within wider academic discussions of colonialism and empire.


‘Miss Clara’ arrived in Europe from the Dutch East Indies in 1741, brought by a retired Dutch East India Company captain, Douwe Mout van der Meer, who then toured her round Europe (including England) to huge acclaim and excitement. Jungfer Clara (so christened while visiting Würzburg in 1748) was the first rhino to be seen on mainland Europe since 1579 and the object of great wonder and affection. Her fame generated a massive industry in souvenirs and imagery from life-scale paintings by major masters to cheap popular prints; there were even Clara-inspired clocks and hairstyles. This book will look at the phenomenon of Clara but, unlike previous studies of the subject, will focus primarily on sculptural/3D representations of her, within the context of other celebrity pachyderms represented by artists between the 16th and 19th centuries.


Miss Clara is one of the most remarkable and best-loved sculptures in the Barber and was praised by the great German art historian and museum director Wilhelm von Bode as ‘the finest animal bronze of Renaissance’ – a telling tribute to its quality, even if he misunderstood its date. The Barber’s cast is one of only two known, the other being at the V&A. There are also closely related marble versions. Other celebrity beasts featured will include the elephants Hansken, Chunee and Jumbo; Dürer’s and various London rhinos; and the hippo Obaysch, star of London Zoo in the 1850s, and the first to be seen in Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire. The publication will consist of entries for the thirty exhibits – included extended texts by Dr Helen Cowie (York University) on images of Chunee and Obaysch – preceded by three essays. Robert Wenley, Deputy Director of the Barber Institute, and the curator of the exhibition, will relate the story of Miss Clara (and of other celebrity rhinos), and explore the sculptural representations of her, presenting new research into their attribution and dating. The eminent sculptural historian, Dr Charles Avery, formerly of the V&A Museum and Christie’s, will write a complementary essay about celebrity elephants in Europe between 1500 and 1700. Dr Sam Shaw (Open University), will discuss private menageries and public zoos between about 1760 and 1860 in the UK, and consider celebrity pachyderms as emblems of empire and colonialism.

  • Edited by Robert Wenley

    By Charles Avery, Samuel Shaw, Robert Wenley, Helen Cowie

    November 2021

    Paperback, 210 x 210 mm

    96 pages, 65 colour illus.

    ISBN: 978-1-913645-02-1

  • Exhibition

    The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham

    12 November 2021 – 27 February 2022

  • In the press

    "Visually rich and thought-provoking catalogue" —The Art Newspaper


    "★★★★★ Perfectly curated ... fills the visitor with wonderment at every turn ... it’s just so delightful." —The Guardian 


    "offers an excellent introduction to the subject – accessible but academically rigorous ... The book is exquisitely illustrated."—Archives of Natural History


    "Gorgeous ... poignant" —World of Interiors 


    "Perfectly presented" —The Critics Circle

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