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Touring the Collection, Part 3

There are many fascinating connections between the works of art in Oudry's Painted Menagerie and works of art in the Getty Museum's permanent collection. In part one and part two of this post, I suggested self-guided tours of portraits and animal-themed decorative arts in the exhibition and the Getty Museum's collection. This third tour explores travel, trade, and exploration in 18th-century Europe.

Self-Guided Tour of Travel, Trade, and Exploration
Clara the rhinoceros, star of Oudry's Painted Menagerie, is a symbol of travel, trade, and exploration in the 18th-century Europe. Glynis Ridley's book Clara's Grand Tour documents her travels throughout Europe over a period of about 21 years. Clara was under the care and ownership of Douwe Mout van der Meer, captain for the Dutch East India Company. When thinking about Clara's seven-month travel from India to Rotterdam aboard van der Meer's ship, I am reminded of the Getty Museum's Shipping in a Calm at Flushing with a States General Yacht Firing a Salute (1649) by Jan van de Cappelle. The seaport at Flushing, Holland, was used by the Dutch East India Company, and the ships in the harbor give an idea of the size of vessel used to transport Clara. Clara's story and van de Capelle's painting underscore the prominent role played by the Dutch in global trade.

Clara was not the only creature to tour Europe in the 18th century. In 2001 and 2002, the Getty presented three exhibitions under the title Italy on the Grand Tour. (See the exhibition Web site for background on the history and tradition of the "Grand Tour.") You can see several of the works from those exhibitions in the Museum, including Pompeo Batoni's Portrait of John Talbot (1773), an English aristocrat who embarked on his own Grand Tour.

There is also an interesting relationship between the paintings of Venice by Francesco Guardi and Canaletto, also on view in the South Pavilion, and the commemorative medals by Jean Daniel Kamm and Peter Paul Werner in Oudry's Painted Menagerie. People who had seen Clara on tour bought these medals as souvenirs of their experience, just as Grand Tourists who visited Italy purchased vedute, or view-paintings, to commemorate their travels. Anyone who has visited Italy and fallen in love with the country knows how enticing it must have been to buy these paintings. Now imagine buying a medal proclaiming that you have seen, firsthand, a living Indian rhinoceros! (Remember that these animals were almost exclusively relegated to the realm of the fantastic until Clara's arrival in Europe in 1741.)

View of the Arch of Constantine / Canaletto Medal for a Rhinoceros
Two imposing four-legged monuments. Left: View of the Arch of Constantine with the Colosseum, Canaletto, 1742–1745
Right: Medal for a Rhinoceros, after Jean Daniel Kamm, 1748
Image right: Historisches Museum Bern

In thinking about exploration in the 18th century, one object from the permanent collection stands out: the Long-Case Musical Clock designed by Alexandre-Jean Oppenordt. Around the corners of the clock case stand four men representing the four continents known at that time: Africa (with an elephant headdress), Europe (brandishing a sword), Asia (with a turban), and the Americas (with a feathered headdress). Australia was officially mapped and claimed for Britain by James Cook in 1770; Antarctica was discovered by Cook in 1773.

The figure representing the Americas bears a resemblance to a figure atop the Musical Clock with a Rhinoceros by Jean-Joseph de Saint-Germain in Oudry's Painted Menagerie. Both clocks reveal the importance of exploration and travel in a world that was still being mapped. So do Oudry's paintings of the animals in the Versailles menagerie. More than curiosities, these animals were meant to reflect the size and scope of the French empire and her allies during the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV.

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