Clara: An 18th Century Icon is Back

Looking for an ice breaker? Try a porcelain rhinoceros.

Not just any rhino, though: a porcelain effigy of Clara, the 18th century rhinoceros who became a star when she set sail from her native India with a Dutch impresario who subsequently took her on a grand tour of Europe. In the Age of Enlightenment, of all the creatures great and small that intrepid explorers were introducing to the Western eye, rhinos were considered the “true unicorns” of the world. Albrecht Dürer had sent out shock waves with his somewhat fanciful engraving of a horned pachyderm, but Clara came along as living proof of the sensational scope of mother nature’s grand scheme, mesmerising all who set eyes on her, princes and paupers alike. Such was her success in Paris and Versailles that wigs shaped into horns caught on in high society, and rhino keepsakes became all the rage far and wide.

©Manufaktur Nymphenburg

Porcelain had been known as “white gold” during Clara’s era. It was during this same period that a German chemist, trying his hand at alchemy, cracked the secret behind the rare and fascinating bone china arriving from the land of dragons and emperors. By discovering how to transform local clay into breathtakingly delicate objects, he converted it into diplomatic currency, influencing the fate of kingdoms. Wonders such as porcelain menageries, symbolising the civilisation of nature, were coveted novelties in the courts of the day.

©Manufaktur Nymphenburg
©Manufaktur Nymphenburg

Over three hundred years later, Clara is back, in the form of an exquisite figurine crafted by legendary Bavarian porcelain manufacturer Nymphenburg (est. 1761), which has turned the gentle giant into a personable miniature based on a 1770 statuette. The most intricate detail and impeccable finish prompts enduring fascination for Clara’s captivating silhouette and armoured hide. A mascot of sorts, Clara reminds us that the wonders of nature merit marvel, and provide the spark for live, scintillating conversation. After all, who needs the small screen when there’s a rhino in the room?

©Sylvain Lewis