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Louis XV's rhinoceros

Zoology and veterinary sciences

Author : : none

Date : Arrived at the Versailles Menagerie on 11 September 1770

Characteristics/Origins : Paris, Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, © MNHN – Service audiovisuel

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.

Zoology and veterinary science

From 1660 on, unprecedented progress was made in animal anatomy. The Menagerie of Versailles, whose building began in 1662 under Louis XIV, contributed to this by supplying the corpses of its animals to scientists. Claude Perrault and Du Verney carried out dissections, sometimes on the spot. In 1681, Louis XIV watched the dissection of an elephant and a crocodile...

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