An Italian Sculptural Pilgrimage - part XXIII

Bernini's "Elephant & Obelisk" Sculpture Before Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Rome (LEO Design)

Join me on my summer holiday as I travel (mostly) through Italy—as always, in search of beautiful sites, sculpture and all things sculpture-ish. 

There are thirteen ancient obelisks decorating Rome—eight Egyptian, five Roman. Procuring them was quite a feat, no doubt. First they had to be taken (Looted? Purchased? Spoils of war?). Then they had to me moved up river on barges and sailed across the Mediterranean Sea in larger vessels (ever so carefully, lest they break or sink the vessel). Once in Italy, they had to be transported inland (even harder than sailing!) to the Roman capital. Imperial Rome had a great fascination with the symbolism of the earlier Egyptian Empire—and they spared no expense to acquire, transport and mount these obelisks in their great and modern city.

The smallest of these obelisks (standing 18 feet high) is one mounted atop a sculpted elephant in the Piazza della Minerva, just in front of the Dominican Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. It was made in Egypt circa 580 BC and brought to Rome in the Third Century AD. It seems to have gone missing for over a thousand years, finally being re-discovered in an archeological dig nearby. Gian Lorenzo Bernini was commissioned to carve the marble sculpture, shown above, to hold the obelisk which was unveiled in 1667.

I am so smitten with the whimsical pachyderm—he displays such motion and personality—that the ancient obelisk sometimes escapes my notice. But the Egyptian artifact does have a remarkable, ancient and interesting provenance.

We'll continue our summer holiday tomorrow. 


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