December 10, 2003

Bernini’s Elephant

I happened to see a photograph last week - on a weblog somewhere, but I don’t remember whose - of the obelisk in Piazza di Minerva in Rome, and of Bernini’s elephant-statue at its base. This reminded me of the fascinating sketches reproduced in Franco Borsi’s book about Bernini which show some of the architect’s preliminary ideas about the project…

Scan of sketches from 'Bernini, Architetto', by Franco Borsi.

Although I very much like the audacious plans at bottom centre and right, with the obelisk seeming to be either manhandled into place, or stolen away from it, there is something very satisfying about the design that was eventually realized.

Scan of sketches from 'Bernini, Architetto', by Franco Borsi.

Below is a photograph, lifted from this page, which shows the elephant as it looks today. Clicking on this and the other images will open larger versions of the same.

Photograph of Bernini's elephant by Marco Mercuri.


Added much later: I’m much obliged to Sig. Bonacci for the link in his comment below which mentions that the inspiration for Bernini’s design was very likely the above image, one of the woodcuts in Francesco Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. Also, I never knew that the statue was familiarly known as il pulcino della Minerva, where ’pulcino’, rather bizarrely, means ‘chick’ (as in baby chicken) - apparently, as the text in the linked page explains, this is a corruption of porcino, in Roman dialect, purcino, meaning, I think, ‘piggy’.

Posted by misteraitch at December 10, 2003 02:11 PM | TrackBack

Il pulcino della Minerva !

Posted by: Franco Bonacci on December 11, 2003 01:58 AM

My name is Andrea Pollett. I am the webmaster of the website called "Virtual Roma" whom the page mentioned by Mr.Bonacci about Bernini's elephant belongs to. The URL he indicated leads to the Italian version of the page, but you might be interested in reading the story of this curious monument visiting the English version, at

Best regards,

Andrea Pollett

Posted by: Andrea Pollett on April 27, 2004 05:08 AM
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