Friday, October 7, 2016

Elephant and Obelisk

(Note.  Not sure quite why but when doing some routine blog maintenance this popped up and won't go back to 2014 where it belongs.  I don't want to delete it entirely. Sorry 'bout the rerun)

The most whimsical of the Obelisks of Rome is certainly one found outside the Church Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.

The church's name says a lot.  It is an early Christian church that was established in the ruins of, or at least on the site of, a pagan temple.  "Mary over Minerva".  A strong bit of symbolism even if the exact location of the temple to Minerva is off a bit.

This was a religious district and there were several temples in close proximity.  The Temple of Isis/Serapis of course had an Egyptian theme to it and was outfitted with numerous small obelisks. Several of these are known to have been installed fairly late, during the anti-Christian reign of Diocletian.

One of these was found in 1661 buried in the cloister of the church.  This obelisk was originally erected in Sais, Lower Egypt, by the Pharaoh Apries. It was decided that it would be erected near where it was found, and Pope Alexander VII commissioned the great Bernini to create a base for it.

The visual image he chose - and elephant holding up the obelisk - is an odd one.  It probably was inspired by this image:

This is from a rather odd book called Hypertomachia Poliphili.  First published in Venice in 1499 the authorship is not certain.  In English the title is Polyphilo's Strife of Love in a Dream.  It is a strange allegorical work, heavily illustrated with elegant woodcut illustrations.  Polyphilo "the friend of many" wanders through a dreamscape in search of his love, Polia.  Dragons, nymphs, exotic wild life, forbidden kisses.  There is a lot of swooning involved.

The book may be the work of Francesco Colonna, a Dominican priest and monk.  His reluctance to put his true name on a rather racy little romance is understandable given his vows.  If you read off the elaborately done first letters of each chapter it says:


This reads in Italian: "Brother Francesco Colonna has dearly loved Polia" !

Some pictures I took of Bernini's Elephant.  Or should we call it Colonna's?  Or even Polia's?

What a great location.  That's the Pantheon in the background.  Rome tended to group temples into religious districts.

Original hieroglyphics.  These were carved from really hard rock and tend to hold up well over time.

The star and mountain were the logo of Pope Alexander VII.

I really like this obelisk.  It is of a more human scale, being the smallest of the Egyptian obelisks to make the long ocean journey to Rome.  And the base statue is perfect.  Over the years the elephant has been known as Porcino, or "Piggy" but in recent years has been called Pulcino, which is "little chick".  Either way he seems to be a really happy guy.

1 comment:

mooseandhobbes said...

This is so cool. Do you know if the heiroglyphs give any clue as to where the obelisk was originally sited?