The king’s rhinoceros

© Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle – Bernard Faye

Did you know that Louis XV was a great enthusiast for all things scientific? He took passionate interests in geography, astronomy, botany, and physics, just to name a few.. A giant, exotic animal  with a thick hide and a horn was a gift fit for this king-scientist.

From the website for the exhibition, Sciences & Curiosités à la cour de Versailles:

“In 1769 the French governor of Chandernagore gave King Louis XV this male rhinoceros, who made a long voyage from India to the Royal Menagerie at Versailles. The animal landed in Lorient on 4 June 1770 but had to wait two and a half months while a special vehicle was built to bring him to his final destination, Versailles. After an eventful journey, he arrived on 11 September of the same year.

The rhinoceros was on public display for 22 years before a revolutionary hacked it to death with a sabre on 23 September 1793. Its remains were brought to the royal garden of medicinal plants at the new natural history museum in Paris, where they were dissected and stuffed by Jean-Claude Mertrud and Félix Vicq d’Azyr. This was the first time an animal of that size underwent a modern taxidermy process. Its skin was varnished and stretched on a frame made of oak and hazel-wood hoops. The skeleton was preserved separately and is still on display in the Comparative Anatomy Gallery.

When experts restored the object in 1992 they realised that the horn was out of place: a black African rhinoceros horn, which is much bigger, had been added on. They replaced it with a mould of a truncated Indian rhinoceros horn from the old royal collections.”

You can visit the rhino now at the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution in Paris.

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