All-Day Breakfast
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All-Day Breakfast

How To Forge a Rhinocerus


160116 All-Day Breakfast — How To Forge a Rhinocerus — #93

Step One—Find a copy of Albrecht Dürer’s 1515 woodcut masterpiece Rhinocerus.

Step Two—Trace. Every. Frickin’. Line.

How To Forge A Rhinoceros

“Let me show you what I drew today,” I said excitedly to a friend who had just dropped by. “I spent hours on this thing.”

“You didn’t draw that. You traced it,” said my daughter, deadpan in her literalism.

The same shame I felt in Grade 6 came over me like a cold wave, when my cover for the class recipe book was first worshipped, then maligned. I had sourced, resized, and meticulously traced a reproduction of Snoopy in a chef’s hat, holding multiple cooking utensils. It was unanimously voted the winner until someone asked me if I had traced it. It looked too good to be a drawing. After my confession, the cover (already printed) was mocked and degraded by my peers.

Artist using a camera lucida to accurately sketch a small statue

Ironically, David Hockney attributes the birth of the Renaissance, with it’s realistic proportions and sudden use of perspective, to tracing.

In his controversial book, Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters, Hockney suggests that as early as the 1420s artists were using a new technology called a camera lucida, which used a half-silvered mirror at 45° to see the reflection of an image on a piece of paper.

In the documentary film Tim’s Vermeer, similar techniques are employed by inventor Tim Jenison to miraculously paint a near duplicate of Johannes Vermeer’s The Music Lesson. Tim admits he is not a painter, yet he creates a work hard to distinguish from the masters of that time.

Indian Rhinoceros at Bardiya National Park in Nepal — Photo by Krish Dulal
Albrecht Dürer’s first rhino sketch

Hundreds of years earlier, in and around the year 1515, Albrecht Dürer receives a description and a sketch of a strange Indian creature called the rhinoceros. Without actually seeing the animal with his own eyes, he quickly draws up his own version: “This is an accurate representation,” he reassures us. “It is the colour of a speckled tortoise, and is almost entirely covered with thick scales. It is the size of an elephant but has shorter legs and is almost invulnerable. It has a strong pointed horn on the tip of its nose, which it sharpens on stones.”

He then proceeds to create perhaps the most famous animal woodcut in all the world (despite its inaccuracies). It is striking in detail — an imposing armoured unicorn with scaled legs and a small, twisted seashell horn on its back. And I certainly wasn’t the first person to trace it.

Albrecht Dürer’s Rhinocerus, 1515

In the same year, another German artist named Hans Burgkmair also created a rhinoceros print. Burgkmair’s version is less embellished and more anatomically accurate, down to the shackles on the animals feet, yet feels eerily similar to Dürer’s.

Hans Burgkmair’s Rhinoceros, 1515

Who copied whom? As time marched on, countless illustrators, printers, and artists would trace, copy, and imitate Dürer’s famous animal. This limited collection of art from 1557 to 1762 (from the Rhino Resource Center) shows just how pervasive and popular this woodcut became. Notice any similarities? (NOTE: the fabricated seashell-horn is finally dropped in the 1700s)

Dürer’s rhino was also the muse for sculptors and craftsmen. In 1602, Italian sculptor Domenico Portigiani cast a bronze fresco of the animal for the door of the baptistry next to the Cathedral in Pisa (you know, the one with the leaning tower). In 1730, Johann Gottlieb Kirchner made a porcelain rhino statue. And even as late as 1956, Salvador Dali forged a 3.6 tonne copper & bronze homage to the old woodcut called, “Rhinoceros dressed in lace.”

So today, in 2016, over five hundred years since the rhinoceros took Europe by storm, I humbly submit How To Forge A Rhinocerus for All-Day Breakfast—admittingly (and lovingly) traced from the original 1515 print by Albrecht Dürer.

How To Forge A Rhinocerus
Jason Theodor — 2016
• 2048 × 1536 pixels
• Basic stylus & Paper (by 53) app on iPad
• Transparent PNG (Portable Network Graphics) format over digital photograph of red & silver couch cushion
• sRGB IEC61966–2.1

Created by tracing over top of Albrecht Dürer’s 1515 woodcut print RHINOCERUS, then erasing the original, applying digital watercolour, and inserting a blurry background photo of a pillow.

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