Piazza Della Minerva – Elephant, Rome
In the center of the Piazza della Minerva is a unique statue of an elephant carrying an obelisk on its back. Created by Bernini in 1667 on a commission by Pope Alexander VII, the inspiration for this statue was taken from the Renaissance allegory of love, Hypnerotomachia Poliphilli written by Francesco Colonna in Venice in 1499. In this book, there is a woodcut of an elephant carrying an obelisk. (Note: a scan of this rare book can be found online at RareBookRoom.org; spread 22 will give you the picture of this woodcut, which inspired Pope Alexander VII to have Bernini sculpt it in marble for the piazza.
The obelisk is from the Egyptian Temple of Isis; its inscriptions related to one of the last pharaohs of Egypt, Apries. There are other obelisks in Rome, but this is the only one supported by an elephant, although not the only one supported by a Bernini sculpture (Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers at the Piazza Navona is another example of Bernini designing a sculpture for an obelisk).
The beautiful church of St Mary over Minerva is located on this square. St Mary's church dates from 1280 and is Rome's only gothic church.
It was built over a temple to Minerva. The church is stunningly beautiful inside. I especially loved the ceiling.
Outside the church is a charming sculpture of a playful baby elephant created by Bernini.
In front of the church there is one of the most curious monuments of Rome, the so-called Pulcino della Minerva. It is a statue designed by the Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini (and carried out by his pupil Ercole Ferrata in 1667) of an elephant as the supporting base for the Egyptian obelisk found in the Dominicans' garden. It is the shortest of the eleven Egyptian obelisks in Rome and is said to have been one of two obelisks moved from Sais, where they were built during the 589 BC-570 BC reign of the pharaoh Apries, from the Twenty-sixth dynasty of Egypt. The two obelisks were 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 Latin inscription on the base, chosen by the pope who commissioned the sculpture to support the obelisk found on the site, Alexander VII, is said to represent that "...a strong mind is needed to support a solid knowledge".
In front of the church Santa Maria sopra Minerva, there is one of the most curious monuments of Rome, the so-called Pulcino della Minerva - Minerva's Chicken.
It is a statue designed by the Gian Lorenzo Bernini of an elephant as the supporting base for the Egyptian obelisk found in the Dominicans' garden.
It is the shortest of the eleven Egyptian obelisks in Rome and is said to have been one of two obelisks moved from Sais, where they were built during the 589 BC-570 BC.
Height: 5.47 meters (obelisk itself. 12.69 meters including the top decoration, elephant, the pedestal and the 4-step basement.)
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 smallest obelisk in Rome (of 5.47m high) is placed in Piazza della Minerva, in front of the church "Santa Maria Sopra Minerva". Made of red granite, the Obelisk originally came from the Egyptian town of Sais. It is "carried" by an elephant, designed by Bernini.
Located behind il Panteone, Piazza della Minerva is a small square adorned with an Ancient Egyptian obelisk. This obelisk was found in the garden of the monastery of Santa Maria sopra Minerva and Bernini was subsequently given the task of mounting it in the middle of the Piazza. Bernini chose to create a humourous sculpture of an elephant with the obelisk mounted on its back, making this obelisk particularly interesting. Behind the obelisk in the attached picture is the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva which, though plain on the outside, happens to have one of the few - and very colourful - Gothic interiors in Rome. It was built in the 13th century over the ruins of the Roman Temple of Minerva. See attached photos.
The Obelisco con l'Enfante 'Il Pulcino della Santa Maria sopra Minerva' is something of a mouthful, hence why it better know as Bellini's Elephant. Found immediately behind the Pantheon in the Piazza della Minerva, the sculture was provided to 'host' the 6th century BC Egyptian obelisk reportedly found in the gardens of the monastery of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.
It has stood in the square since 1667, the elephant symbolising intelligence and piety, a positive image for Roman Catholics and Christians in general.
Piazza della Minerva never seems crowded. It's a hidden one with the loveliest obelisk. In fact, I happened to be alone on the piazza when taking the picture in a late summer afternoon. That was my unique chance to contemplate the jewel of the piazza, and feel its powerful presence.
While the church looks rather plain from the outside, those you venture inside will be rewarded with a very impressive gothic church. The elephant in front was designed by Bernini, and was used as a base for the obelisk in 1667. The church houses the body of St Catherine (minus her head), just under the main altar. The tombs of Clement VII and Leo X are also resident in this church. The roof is painted a stunning blue, with gold/white decorations. The scultpure 'Risen Christ' was begun by Michaelangelo.
In front of the 'Santa Maria Sopra Minerva' one
can find this remarkable statue you got to see.
The elephant is made by 'Ercole Ferrata' but
it is a design by the imaginative mind of
Bernini. Originally it was meanth to chear up
the family Barberinis palace...
But the obelisk wasn't owned by them.
No , the obelisk was lying in the garden of
the Franciscan monks and they wanted to have
it on this square near their cloister.
Also one of the monks did think that the back
of the elephant wouldn't hold the obelisk.
So 'Bernini' had to design the animal without
space under it's belly.
Knowing all that you can imagine that 'Bernini'
and the monks didn't had a great relationship.
Somewhere I found the this story that that is
the reason why he put this little elephant with
his behind towards the cloister.
The Elephant Obelisk in the midst of Piazza della Minerva is one of Bernini's less celebrated works, but it's still pretty groovy. Behind the obelisk is the dome of the Pantheon, one of the great temples of Ancient Rome. According to Taistealai, it's frigid inside.
This gives you an idea of the relationship and synergy between the various eras of Rome. I can't believe I just said "synergy." I've been in the corporate world too long.
The square in front of the Santa Maria sopra Minerva church has a beautiful obelisk on it. Throughout the city are various of these obelisks. All of these were stolen from Egypt. Right now Egypt lend them out permanently to Italy. The obelisk in Paris for example was a gift. The elephant on which the obelisk is placed was one of Bernini's creations. It was initially meant to be placed on the piazza Barberini, but there are some other Barberini creations there now!
There are 13 obeliscs in Rome (did I mention Romans loved steeling? :))) . As i'm interested in Egyptian civilization it was great to see at least half of them in all those squares.
The one I loved in particular was very original, not so tall but with a lovely detail - Elephant under it :)
Though the church facade itself is not impressive, one of the neatest introductions to a church in Rome is behind the elephant by Bernini which upholds one of the city's fifteen obelisks. This smiling pachyderm overlooks a modern parking zone and is situated in the Piazza Minerva just up the street from the Pantheon.
Bernini decided to embellish this little square with this elephant and obelisk on its back. The obelisk is Egyptian and dates back to 6BC. The elephant is known as the chick of Minerva was sculpted by Ercole Ferrata in 1667.