Dürer’s Rhinoceros: Biocultural Homogenization of the Visual Construction of Nature

  • José Miguel Esteban
Part of the Ecology and Ethics book series (ECET, volume 3)


In this paper I will try to show that the printing press was forming a visual culture that uniformized the construction of images of the fauna discovered in Africa, Asia, and the Americas during the Renaissance. Isolated from its background or ecological context, the figure of the animal, unattached and floating, absorbed a symbolic load that assimilates it to other images constructed according to that visual culture. In this chapter we will see how the figure of Dürer’s rhino absorbed the symbolic load of the visual culture of Renaissance colonialism. The warlike attributes of the printed image incorporated in the Indian rhinoceros the epic and military dimension of the colonial adventure. The visual construction of Dürer could very well represent the cultural homogenization of the biotas east and west of Europe. The pictorial construction of the otherness of exotic animals reaffirmed the beneficial exceptionalism of Europe and, consequently, reinforced the legitimacy of Western colonization of a wild and alien nature, waiting to be reduced and converted into merchandise. The history of the numerous reprints of Dürer’s rhino reproduces the biocultural consequences of positive feedback between processes such as representing, conquering, and commodifying nature. Finally, I present Dalí’s rhinoceros as a reference to the quantitative homogenization of the images of nature and culture. To conclude, I conclude that one of the challenges of biocultural conservation is to denounce the construction of homogeneous biocultural habitats based on habits such as visual production and the consumption of images.


Art Biocultural ethics Biocultural conservation Colonialism Eurocentrism 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • José Miguel Esteban
    • 1
  1. 1.Facultad de FilosofíaUniversidad Autónoma del Estado de QuerétaroSantiago de QuerétaroMexico

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