The Elephant Rock
April 8, 2012 § Leave a comment
“An enormous mass of granite or sienite situated to the north of the town of Madura, altogether isolated from the neighbouring Hills, and when viewed from the S. E. or S. W. bearing a strong resemblance to a couchant Elephant, with its trunk extended in front. The origin of the rock according to Hindu legends is as follows. In the reign of Vikrama Pandyan the (Soran) king of Kanchipuram (called by the English Conjeveram) invaded Madura at the head of 8000 Bauddhas or Samanal, bringing with him an enormous Elephant, which had risen supernaturally from the flames of a huge sacrificial pit dug by the King. This Elephant was however destroyed by Shiva, whose aid was invoked by the Pandyan King with a rocket called Narashimha Astram; and the carcase, transformed to a mountain, remains to this day.”
Tripe, Linnaeus, 1822-1902
Albumen print from waxed paper (calotype) negative
Victoria and Albert Museum
The Circus Girl
April 7, 2012 § Leave a comment
April 2, 2012 § 1 Comment
“In ancient Roman arenas, elephants appeared in a variety of spectacles. In some they were made to perform stunts, in others they were mutilated and killed. The common element in these spectacles is that the audience found pleasure in the humiliation of these enormous beasts.”(1)
Twenty elephants accompanied Pyrrhus II, King of Epirus, and his army when they invaded southern Italy in 280 BC. Initially successful in terrifying the Roman soldiers, the elephants eventually contributed to Pyrrhus’ defeat when they were turned back against his own troops, causing chaos and destruction. Four of the beasts were captured and taken to Rome. Thirty years later, 140 elephants were captured from the Carthaginians in Sicily, and sent to Rome where they were paraded before the people, prodded with blunt spears or killed with javelins. Thus began a long tradition of humiliation, abuse and slaughter of elephants in the Circus Maximus, a celebration of Rome’s superior military power and domination over its enemies, and over nature itself.
“Aelian describes an exhibition in which elephants, wearing flowered dancers’ dresses, entered the arena in two groups of six, their bodies swaying. They formed a line, wheeled in circles and performed various movements at the trainer’s order keeping time by rhythmic stamping as if dancing, and sprinkling flowers delicately on the floor.” (2)
“Another stunt described by Aelian drove the spectators wild with delight. Six male elephants and six female elephants in pairs, suitably costumed, took their places at a banquet. They used their long trunks as hands to take food with great delicacy and drank from bowls placed in front of them.” (3)
(1) Jo-ann Shelton, Dancing and Dying:The Display of Elephants in Ancient Roman Arenas. Daimonopylai, (Winnepeg, 2004)
The Only Elephant in the World You Can Go Through and Come out Alive
April 1, 2012 § Leave a comment
“In the late nineteenth century, “elephant hotels” became a fad, and three were built along the New Jersey/New York Coast.
Lucy, the first, built in 1881 in Atlantic City, was used as a real estate gimmick to market land in the southern section of the resort, which later became Margate. The next was Elephantine Colossus, which was constructed in 1884 in Coney Island, New York, and boasted thirty-four guest rooms. The Light of Asia was built the same year in Cape May. The former was lost in a fire in 1896, and the later was razed in 1900. As Coney Island became associated with disreputable behavior, its elephant hotel was used for a time as a brothel. “Seeing the elephant” became synonymous with an adventure that you would not discuss with your wife or children.” Emil R. Salvini, Jersey Shore: Vintage Images of Bygone Days. 2008 (Connecticut)
The Lives of Images
April 1, 2012 § Leave a comment
In The lives of Images, Peter Mason traces the migration of images (drawings, etchings and photographs), from one cultural context to another across media, time and space. A lineage of use can be direct and explicit, or filled with leaps and gaps. Mason cites the various and numerous depictions of Annone as a prime example of how “[images] are caught up in a movement of ebb and flood, of flux and reflux, now surfacing, now disappearing below the surface again before reappearing somewhere else in the same watery mass.” (1) From a handful of direct sketches by Raffaello and drawings by his contemporary Giulio Romano, which may themselves be copies, flowed a life-size fresco, etchings, tapestries, stucco, intarsia and a fountain, stretching over many decades after Annone’s brief appearance in Rome. “The travels of the elephant himself- from Cochin to Portugal, from Portugal to Rome- are mirrored, if not surpassed, by the travels of posthumous representations of him.” (2)
Mason traces the migration of the lives and images of native Tierra del Fuegans, a story of gross exploitation, miserable treatment and continual recontextualization. The earliest European representation of a native of Tierra del Fuego, “an engraving of the scene of Magellan’s discovery of the straits that bear his name, also includes a travelling Indian elephant being carried through the air in the talons of a huge bird, the mythological roc, like the great birds or Rukhs, also mentioned by Marco Polo, that carried Sinbad into the mountains by his turban and dropped stones on his ship”. (3) In a strange example of contextual reflux, the elephant resembles representations of Annone, and inspired art historian Rudolph Wittkower “[to connect] this image with Sanskrit representations of the struggle between the eagle and the snake (in Sanskrit epics, the word naga means both snake and elephant)”. (4) Magellan was Portuguese, though he later made the voyage through Tierra del Fuego for the King of Spain. He spent many years in India, including in Cochin serving Governor Alfonso de Albuquerque, and participated in the conquest of Malacca in 1511. Rich with plunder, he sailed home to Portugal in 1512, the same year that Annone made his voyage to Lisbon.
(1) Peter Mason, The Lives of Images. 2001, London