Art Preserves Ganda, The Pope’s Regifted Rhino
Tom Frew, 3 Jan 18

The Rhinoceros, 1515. (Credit: Albrecht Dürer via Wikimedia Commons)

The tale of one of the most infamous gifts of all time—Ganda the rhino, a gift to Pope Leo X that drowned in 1515—lives on in one of the most influential images in art history and is also the focus of a new book coming out this spring.

“Ganda the rhino, was sent by Sultan Muzaffar Shah II of Cambay to King Manuel I of Portugal as a diplomatic gift,” says Giorgio Riello, the book’s author a professor in the history department at the University of Warwick.

“As soon as it arrived people flocked to the main square in Lisbon to see Ganda,” the first rhino in Europe since Roman times and the latest addition to the king’s menagerie, Riello says.

The Rhinoceros, 1515. (Credit: Albrecht Dürer via Wikimedia Commons)

The Roman historian Pliny had written in the 1st Century AD that rhinos and elephants were bitter enemies, with it written in texts that “rhinos could win over elephants,” adds Riello.

King Manuel decided to test the ancient theory by pitting an elephant from his collection against Ganda—but the elephant fled just as the fight was set to commence, confirming Ganda’s status as a special creature. Despite Ganda’s triumph, “Manuel eventually got bored with the rhino and decided to send it to the pope” and added it to the collection of animals he had already sent to the Vatican, Riello explains.

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