Meet Bernini’s ultimate revenge.
Right behind the Pantheon, there is our favorite little square in Rome: Piazza della Minerva. This petite plaza shows us the most artistic elephant in the world. Obelisco Della Minerva (Elephant and Obelisk) designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
The story behind it goes like this: Pope Alexander VII decided to have the obelisk raised in front of the church and chose a design of an elephant, made by Bernini, as the symbol of Christianity: integrity, sobriety, piety. The inspiration for the elephant came to Bernini from a 15th-century novel first published in Venice, by Francesco Colonna, “Hypnerotomachia Poliphili” (Poliphili’s Dream of the Strife of Love). The main character of the book meets an elephant made of stone carrying an obelisk. It is believed that both Bernini and Pope Alexander VII have read the book.
As this decision been made, the pope rejected a design made by a Dominican priest, father Paglia, who later on interfered in the project by suggesting the change of bottom of the obelisk. This action irritated Bernini hugely, but the pope took father Paglia’s side and asked for the cube to be placed under the elephant’s belly. Bernini then added a saddle to the elephant to hide the cube, but he could not hide the bulky look the elephant got as a result. Roman people give a nickname the “Porcino Della Minerva” (Minerva’s piglet).
The smart Bernini did not want to just forgive father Paglia for changing his design, he decided to place the elephant’s back pointing towards the Dominican Monastery, so every time Dominican priest look from the monastery’s window down to the piazza, he sure will see the elephants ass! the ultimate salute to his rival!
How fun this story is! Indeed I love his humor. When the time we were there, this beautiful elephant did soothe our hearts magically. the plaza is almost empty, without any tourist, for that reason, I will say it’s quite a hidden gem and I really recommend to stop by after seeing the Pantheon.
*This post is one of the attractions from our Ultimate Rome 6 day trip itinerary Day 1, you can click each of the names to see the full post.
Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain)→ Pantheon & Fontana del Pantheon→ Obelisco Della Minerva (Elephant and Obelisk)→ San Luigi dei Francesi (Church of St. Louis of the French) → Largo di Torre Argentina→ Capitoline Museums
Have you seen Bernini’s elephant before? or have you ever find some hidden gem from your trip? share with me, please!
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