Clocks incorporating figures of rhinoceros, elephants, bulls and lions were highly fashionable in mid-18th century Paris. The arrival of a live rhinoceros in Rotterdam in 1741, and its subsequent travel to Versailles in early January 1749 and then to Paris where it remained from February to April 1749, exemplifies how current events and fashion were so closely intertwined. Inevitably, the marchands-merciers were quick to sieze upon the mania created by the exotic animal's presence, and proceeded to supply objects au rhinoceros.
The earliest version of a mantel clock with a rhinoceros base predates 1747, when the inventory drawn upon the death of the wife of mâtre-fondeur Jean-Joseph de Saint-Germain, mentions:
deux pendules au rhinoceros l'une pour modle et l'autre finie prises ensembles la somme de 140 l.
As this predates the 1749 pilgrimage of the Rotterdam rhinoceros to Paris, it is likely that Saint-Germain had looked to popular graphic sources such as Albrecht Dürer's celebrated engraving of 1515.
It is interesting to note that a Saint-Germain mantel clock with a related bronze rhinoceros clock is depicted in the 1765 portrait of Princess Luisa of Parma by Laurent Pcheux (Palazzo Pitti, Florence). The Infanta's clock was most likely purchased during her 1749 trip to Paris, as this coincided directly with the presence of the Rotterdam rhinoceros in Versailles and Paris. A closely related model, signed by Saint-Germain and also with Chinoiserie figure to the top was sold from the Riahi collection, Christie's, London, 6 December 2012, lot 18.