Pulcino della Minerva (Berninis Elephant), Roma, 10 x 8 in., Oil

Pulcino della Minerva (Berninis Elephant), Roma, 10 x 8 in.,

I did this cityscape  painting over two days at the Piazza della Minerva in Rome, Italy, one block behind the Pantheon, which you see in the background.

This  is one of the most curious monuments of Rome, the so-called Pulcino della Minerva. It is a statue designed by the Baroque era sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini of an elephant as the supporting base for the Egyptian obelisk found in the Dominicans’ garden. The  obelisk was  brought to Rome by Diocletian, during his reign as emperor from 284 to 305, for placement at the Temple of Isis, which stood nearby.

The inspiration for the unusual composition came from Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (“Poliphilo’s Dream of the Strife of Love”), an unusual 15th century novel probably by Francesco Colonna. The novel’s main character meets an elephant made of stone carrying an obelisk, and the accompanying woodcut illustration in the book is quite similar to Bernini’s design for the base for the obelisk. The curious placement of the obelisk through the body of the elephant is identical.

The name for the structure, Pulcino, is  the Italian for a small or little “chick”. This may have been a reference to the comparatively short height of the obelisk or, an obscure reference to the major charity of the Dominicans ( whose church, Santa Maria sopra Minerva,  is in the piazza) to assist young women needing dowries, who made a procession in the courtyard every year.

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