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Elephant and Obelisk, Rome

4.5
#62 of 524 in Historic Sites in Rome
Elephant and Obelisk is the base of the smallest obelisk of Rome, with a height of 5.47 meters: there are other 12 ancient obelisks present in Rome nowadays.

The statue is a sculpture designed by the Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The elephant was probably executed by his assistant Ercole Ferrata; the Egyptian obelisk was uncovered during nearby excavations. It was unveiled in February 1667 in the Piazza della Minerva in Rome, adjacent to the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, where it stands today.

The image possibly originated from the Hypnerotomachia Polyphili of 1499. Various preparatory drawings done by Bernini exist. One version in Windsor Castle, UK was probably done in the 1630s when Cardinal Francesco Barberini wished to place an Egyptian obelisk in front of his family palace, the Palazzo Barberini. Nothing came of this specific project, but Bernini revived the idea in the 1660s, when Pope Alexander VII, Fabio Chigi, wished to build a similar monument after another Egyptian obelisk had been discovered in Rome.

Various other concepts were explored for this later commission as attested by preparatory drawings. It is likely that the drawings were used so that the patron could make a decision about which design he wanted. This include a drawing (in Leipzig) of the figure of Time holding a scythe and simultaneously the obelisk. In the Vatican Library there are two pen and ink drawings with other figures holding up the obelisk, including one of Hercules, and another with various allegorical figures supporting the spire. A third version in the Vatican Library shows Bernini adapting on the concept he created in the 1630s, although he added in a larger base, changed the direction of the elephant's orientation, and made its face appear more friendly than ferocious.
It turned out to be the last commission Pope Alexander VII would ask of Bernini, as he died in May 1667. He was succeeded by Pope Clement IX.

On 15 November 2016, Rome authorities announced they were searching for vandals who broke the left tusk the previous Sunday night and left the piece nearby. Mayor Virginia Raggi said that they will assess the damage to determine how to best reattach the fragment.
The statue makes a brief but prominent appearance in the Italian neorealist film Umberto D. (1952). It also features as a motif in the novel Adua by Igiaba Scego (2015).

The obelisk is considered to be one of a pair, the other is in Urbino.
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Elephant and Obelisk Reviews

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TripAdvisor Traveler Rating 4.5
361 reviews
Google
4.6
TripAdvisor
  • Found this very interesting statue while wondering the streets of Rome on my last trip and I was impressed, definitely worth checking out if you are in the area. Designed by Bernini, it's a beautiful....  more »
  • In the square in front of the entrance to the Basilica di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva stands a statue of a marble elephant carrying an Egyptian obelisk on its back. The elephant sculpture was designed....  more »
Google
  • If you are on the way to the Pantheon, it is easy to see, it is worth taking a look and taking a picture of it. But if you're not in the area, better not. It is not worth living just for him. It is an Egyptian Obelisk in a charming market, but only that. 🤙🏼😕
  • Originally one of a pair from Sais. Brought to Rome by Diocletian for the nearby Temple of Isis. Found in 1655 and erected in 1667 by Pope Alexander VII on an Elephant base by Bernini, behind the Pantheon in Piazza della Minerva. The other of the pair is in Urbino.

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