March 19, 2014

April 9, 2014 § Leave a comment

In a spark of artistic inspiration, or delirious sensory short circuitry, possibly one and the same, or at least intimately intertwined, I see the face of Moira Orfei in the campaign posters of Sonia Gandhi. Along a road that leads from Cochin to Rome, the defacto Queen of India and the Queen of the Elephants fuse to become dual avatars, twin brides of Shiva, daughters of Dionysus. Two Italian women with the same coiffure who strike the same pose, flash the same perfect, ivory teeth; two famous beauties whose faces of dynastic durability are instantly recognizable and ubiquitous in their respective realms; one rules an ancient land where an elephant-headed boy is God, the other a fading world of fluorescent pink and yellow circus dreams. IMG_0199

The path that links the two is there because it has been followed, a quantum photon, a vector of red silk, black pepper and white light; a line that can be touched but not held, tasted but not described, seen but not drawn. Created by inquiry, energy and experience, it is a thread that connects, breaks then re-forms in order to dissolve again; it is Lord Shiva who dances the universe into existence and then destroys it, Lord Ganesha who blesses beginnings and removes all obstacles, allowing me to glimpse the line that runs from Cochin through Lisbon to Rome. This, then, is my reward; to feel the thread pass over my fingers like water, to see in the flash of an instant the whole story of Annone’s journey; the epic, elephantine exegesis of Shiva’s emissary, Manuel’s trophy, Leo’s pet.

March 19, 1514

April 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

If you believe, oh elephant, that you serve a lion of Libya,
You are deceiving yourself,
This lion has fallen from the sky.
This is your master, the chief glory of the earth,
With the triple tiara crowning his head.
Among the mortals he is held to be more than mortal,
It is him that has been given to open and close the heavens.
If to serve god is indeed to reign,
You will reign serving Leo
For he is god on earth…

Giovanni Capitone Arentino; written on the arrival of Annone and the Portuguese delegation in Rome, March, 1514.
rome map 1549
March 19, 1514
“Finally when all was in readiness Cunha gave the signal and the mission began to wind its way through the Porta Flaminia. At that moment, a furious thunderstorm broke and raged all about them. Drenched, confused, and frightened by the violence of the wind and the downpour, the marchers covered themselves as best they could while frantically seeking shelter, which was nowhere available. No sooner had they passed through the ruined gate in the Aurelian wall, however, than the storm ceased as abruptly as it had begun, and the sun emerged suddenly in all its earlier brightness and splendor. The day remained clear and mild thereafter, and the Roman populace took it as a sign from on high that God looked favorably upon the Portuguese king and his undertakings…
…the first contingent consisted of members of the families of the pope and cardinals mounted on mules draped in purple. Next came the papal lighthorsemen without lances and the footmen of the cardinals mounted on mules covered with scarlet saddlecloths, bearing the ceremonial hats of their masters suspended around their necks… The Portuguese courtiers (were) dressed in long robes of crimson velvet with scarlet hoods and superb gold collars around their necks. They came mounted on horses and mules, each of which was draped with a saddlecloth of silk fabric decorated with gold and silver lame’. Then followed the family of the Portuguese ambassador-in-residence, Joao de Farina, the families of the visiting ambassadors, Tristao de Cunha and Diego Pacheco, each mounted on horses draped in velvet, the pope’s mounted horse guard and his archers, members of the pope’s family, the halberdiers of the Swiss guard marching in formation, succeeded by the pope’s trumpeters and pipers.
swiss raffaello
The next segment was led by Nichoau de Faria mounted on a Spanish jennet, preceding the gifts to Manuel I from the King of Hormuz- a black man riding a prized white Persian horse to the haunches of which clung the sleek spotted cheetah. Captured wild in the Asian forests and trained for the hunt in Lisbon, it was a beast such as had never been seen in Rome. Walking proudly behind it came a young Saracen, guiding the young elephant plodding along at a turtle’s pace. Its other attendant, the richly dressed Moorish mahout, rode astride its neck, and the beast’s back was covered with a saddlecloth of crimson velvet and its head masked in a caparison of gold brocade. Supported in the center of its back was a great silver coffer, artfully disposed under a handsome brocaded covering which fell almost to the ground and was ornamented in the finest workmanship with the arms of the Portuguese king. Above the coffer rose a silver tower with many turrets…. IMG_0311
Of all the dazzling and unusual elements of the great procession, it was the elephant that excited the greatest public interest, not only because of its large size but also its antics in immediate response to commands. It would lift its trunk, turn and salute from one side to the other, and from time to time it would drink from the great barrels of water situated along the route, always in docile response to the voice of the Saracen guiding it.
The silver tower balanced on the beast’s back also brought gasps of surprise from the crowds. The castle-like structure with its numerous turrets featured under the canopy at its center a large rock containing a gold tabernacle which was executed with such artistry that it was said the workmanship excelled the material of which it was made. A gold chalice was displayed in one of its turrets, and the others contained silver cases displaying holy vestments of gold and silver cloth adorned with embroideries of pearls and unpolished rubies…
A they approached the bridge leading to Castel Sant’Angelo, the ground was shaking from the castle’s artillery with which the pope greeted the mission. As these cannonades merged with the sound of the Portuguese and papal musicians and the outcries of the crowd, the sound swelled into a great roar… The birds and beasts in their travelling cages plaintively reacted with alarmed chattering and low roars of concern as a consequence of the disturbing ground tremors combined with the assault of sound.
The procession was scheduled to pass in front of Castel Sant’Angelo and then continue back over the bridge into the city once more. The brilliant cavalcade moved slowly along until the young elephant approached the open window from which the pope and his party were watching. It stopped in its tracks, folded its knees and knelt to the ground, inclining its head devoutly. Then, as the beast arose, it saluted the pope with three great barks, trumpeting ‘Bar, Bar, Bar!’ according to contemporary chroniclers. The pope watching from his vantage point laughed like a child at the performance… The great beast next plunged its trunk into a nearby trough and filled it with water. Then, raising its trunk, the elephant sprayed water sufficiently high to reach the pontiff and other nearby watchers, drenching them, to the even greater amusement of Leo X.”

from The Pope’s Elephant, Silvio Bedini
old st peters copy 2

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