Beauty and the Beast:
Venice and the Rhino

24th November, 2018
Palazzo Contarini Polignac

Rhino Venice , © Nikki Kovesi

Rhino Venice, © Nikki Kovesi


A world without rhinos and a world without Venice is unimaginable. And yet both Venice and the Rhinoceros have become victims of their desirability and objectification as luxury objects – both consumed without discrimination by an ever-expanding consumer class.


This shimmering city and magnificent beast might seem an unlikely pairing. However not only are both threatened with extinction in the face of unfettered consumption, but the rhinoceros is embedded emblematically in the city: Marco Polo provided one of the earliest descriptions of the Sumatran rhinoceros; a rhino is portrayed in an ancient mosaic in the heart of the city's basilica; and a visiting rhinoceros to the city is commemorated in a famous eighteenth-century painting by one of Venice's great artists. 

The symposium brings together an international group of artists, conservationists, poets, writers, and historians, who together will explore the often surprising intersections between these two endangered objects of mass luxury consumption. The recent and artificial construction of rhino horn as a unique object of desire will be placed within its longer history; the tale of Clara the rhino in Venice will be elucidated; the artists contributing to the exhibition will be introduced; and the complex threads involved in the mass tourism market of Venice with its destructive consequences on one of the world’s most beautiful of cities will be unraveled.

‘Tis a passing ugly beast to look upon, and is not in the least like that which our stories tell of as being caught in the lap of a virgin; in fact, ‘tis altogether different from what we fancied.
— Marco Polo, on the 'unicorn' of Sumatra


This free and public symposium, which contextualizes and launches the accompanying exhibition ‘Rhinoceros: Luxury’s Fragile Frontier’, examines the paradoxical magnificence and fragility of both Venice and of the Rhinoceros. Download the symposium program here:

How to register

The event is free, but we ask you to register for catering purposes and place numbers are limited. We look forward to meeting you there.

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