A story about a marble elephant called Porcino
Since working on Tata&Squack – Mission Elephant, a children’s book about elephants, I see them everywhere. Last summer when I visited Rome, I ran into an adorable elephant carrying an obelisk on his back. The gentle giant is called Procino, was created by baroque era sculptor Bernini in 1667 and is one of the most curious monuments of Rome. It is the shortest of the eleven Egyptian obelisks you find in Rome and is said to have been one of two obelisks moved from Egypt, where they were built for the pharaoh Apries, nearly 600 years before Christ. The inspiration for the unusual composition came from “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 sturdy appearance of the structure earned it the popular nickname of “Porcino” (“Piggy”) for a while. The name for the structure eventually changed to Pulcino, the Italian for a small or little “chick”. This may have been a reference to the comparatively short height.