Just Looking

February 9, 2014 § Leave a comment

As I was wandering the backstreets of Bhaktapur a boy eager to practice his English asked me, "What are you searching for?" I replied, not searching, just looking. "Looking for what?" Just looking, looking at everything.
The vector of my inquiry has been a path followed rather than controlled. After 8 days in Bhaktapur, Nepal, I have come to Kolkata to meet Abanti Chakraborty, Bengali theater artist, director and translator of classic western texts into Indian language and context. Together we will travel south to Kerala where, in the early 16th century, elephants were shipped by Portuguese factors to Lisbon, the capital of their empire, for the pleasure of King Manuel I. Our first stop will be Pondicherry, then Mahabalipuram to see the beach temples with their massive elephants carved into the native rock. From there we will cross to the center of India to Hampi to see the ruins of Vijayanagar and finally to Fort Cochin, Annone's port of embarkation for Lisbon. Together we will be looking, just looking at everything.

A Danger of Travel

February 3, 2014 § Leave a comment

“A danger of travel is that we may see things at the wrong time, before we have had an opportunity to build up the necessary receptivity, so that new information is as useless and fugitive as necklace beads without a connecting chain. Travel twists our curiosity according to a superficial geographical logic, as superficial as if a university course were to prescribe books according to their size rather than subject matter.”

The art of travel.
Alain de Boutin


Now to return from a necessary digression

February 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

Now to return from a necessary digression.

Annone- Elephants in Art and Imagination began as a record of my search and research into the story of Annone. An internet message in a bottle, a call to artists and imagineers to follow the story of an elephant. Not all elephants, plural, who desperately need a call to their defense, but one, historical elephant. The search led me on a journey through visual art, literature, historical documents and contemporary culture, and connected me to artists, writers and historians on three continents. It has been viewed 18,000 times from 140 countries, far beyond my wildest imagining. Now, I am following the historical, geographical, journey made by Annone from India to Portugal and finally to Rome. On March 19, 2014, I will celebrate the 500th anniversary of Annone’s walk into the eternal city, with an event and an exhibit. Not a party of culmination, but celebration of an arrival. The beast lived in Rome for 2 years, and it was the drawing of Annone, made for the fresco painted after his death, that inspired me in the first place. There will need to be another celebration on June 8, 1516.


Cut Out and Assemble

June 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

Elephant Stables at Vijayanagara

June 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

On the map above, in the square with the word ROYAL, directly above the letter L, are two small rectangles. The narrow, vertical one locates the stables, which face a large, open parade ground.

Royal Elephant Stables at Vijayanagara, 1856. Photo- J.A. Greenlaw. Victoria and Albert Museum

Elephant Transport

May 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

Annone made two long sea voyages, possibly three. In the early 1500’s there was an active elephant trade between Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and the West coast of India. If Annone came from Ceylon, as one writer suggests, he would have been transported by ship to Cochin.(1)
On the six month voyage  from Cochin to Lisbon in late 1510 or early 1511, he rode a Portuguese nau, or carrack. By Bedini’s calculations, Annone would have been about one year old when he made the trip.(2) A one year-old Indian elephant weighs about 1000 pounds. The name of the ship is not known, but fleets of Portuguese nau had been making regular trips back and forth since 1497. Some of the armadas are well documented, but the return voyage of 1510-1511 is not.
Documents do, however, exist in the State Archives of Portugal that refer to the care and feeding of elephants destined for Portugal. 
Annone’s third sea voyage was from Lisbon to Civitavecchia, a port north of Rome. The trip is described in detail by Bedini in The Pope’s Elephant, and is notable for several reasons, including the story of a companion ship destined for Pope Leo X carrying a rhinoceros which sank in a storm off the coast of Italy. The rhino that washed ashore some days later was the one that Durer depicted in his woodcut of 1515, although he never saw the beast, dead or alive.

Elephants are moved in various ways- by truck, train, boat and plane. Circus elephants still ride trains where they are kept tightly chained for many hours between stops. And they walk. One of the prime mistreatments of elephants in India today is the practice of making elephants walk long distances on burning hot pavement to and from various money making engagements such as weddings, political rallies, temple festivals and commercial events.

(1)  H.A.J. Hulugalle, author of Ceylon of the Early Travelers, is cited by Jayantha Jayewardene in Elephants in Sri Lankan History and Culture  for the following: “In 1507 the Viceroy of India sent a gift of a small elephant, imported from Ceylon, to King Manuel of Portugal. After seven years in Lisbon this elephant, named Annone, was presented to Pope Leo X and moved to Rome. Annone lived in Rome for three years but died after developing stomach trouble due to the variety of food given to it by visitors and admirers. There is a memorial in Rome to Annone the first elephant in the Vatican.”

(2) Bedini, S. The Pope’s Elephant

The Cantino Planisphere

May 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Cantino Planisphere is a world map compiled by Portuguese explorers and cartographers detailing discoveries made and routes used in the late 15th and early 16th century. An Italian horse trader in Lisbon, Alberto Cantino, working secretly as an agent of the Duke of Ferrara, had a copy of the map made and smuggled out of Portugal in 1502, when such maps were heavily guarded state secrets. Among its many details is a depiction of the West coast of India, including Goa, Calicut and Cochin.

In 1504, in response to the loss of such a valuable map, Manuel I of Portugal passed a law instituting state censorship of all private map and globe production, prohibiting any depiction of coast beyond West Africa.
The map passed through various hands, was cut into pieces, reassembled as a room divider, and used in a butcher shop before eventually finding its way to the Biblioteca Estense in Modena.

Vijayanagara, Pepper and the Portuguese

May 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

In 1001 A.D., Muslim armies began a relentless attack on Northern India, pressing ever southwards, establishing themselves firmly and permanently. War followed war for nearly 350 years until all of India north of the Krishna River was under Muslim rule, and the country to the south was threatened with imminent ruin and devastation. Abruptly, in about 1344, the wave of foreign invasion was stopped. The Hindu south was saved by an alliance of weak partners who together formed a solid wall of opposition, the Empire of Vijayanagara. The empire flourished and grew fabulously rich until it too was finally crushed in 1565. The peak of Vijayanagara’s power and influence coincided with the ascent of the Portuguese, and their fates were closely intertwined. It was Vijayanagara’s wealth in spices, particularly black pepper, which Portugal’s armadas sought to exploit through trade. By controlling the west coast trading centers of greater Goa, the Portuguese Casa da India grew enormously rich.

Virupaksha Temple Complex, 1856. Photo- J.A. Greenlaw. Victoria and Albert Museum

Black pepper, grown in Kerela, composed as much as 90% of the return cargo of the early armadas. Other spices could also be found in Calicut, Cochin and other major markets on the Malabar Coast of India –cinnamon from Ceylon, long pepper from Java, cloves from the Moluccan Islands, nutmeg and mace from  the Banda Islands.

Georg Braun and Franz Hogenber’s Atlas, 1572.

Trade goods brought by the Portuguese to sell in India were cut and branch coral, copper in pigs and sheets, quicksilver, vermillion, rugs, Flanders brass basins, colored cloths, knives, red barret-caps, mirrors and colored silks. But European products did not sell all that well in Asia, which meant that ship holds were frequently empty, or nearly so, on the outward voyage from Portugal. Outbound ships carried little more than metal bullion – principally silver, but also copper and lead– needed to purchase spices in Asian markets. However, if they stopped at Mozambique Island on the outward leg (as almost all India armadas did), they could expect to pick up gold, ivory, coral and pearls, acquired during the year by Portuguese factories, at several points along the Swahili Coast for sale in India.

Eastern Gopura, Pattabhirama temple complex,1856. Photo J.A. Greenlaw. Victoria and Albert Museum

Vijayanagara’s power waned after the Battle of Talikota in 1565, when the city described by de Varthema, Paes and Nunez, was destroyed. The king fled south with his treasure loaded on the backs of 550 elephants. With the fall of Vijayanagara, the dominant influence of the Portuguese in India began to unravel.

Royal Elephant Stables at Vijayanagara, 1856. Photo- J.A. Greenlaw. Victoria and Albert Museum

Elephant Emissaries of Shiva

May 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

Ganesha was Shiva’s son, or Parvati’s son, or was created by Shiva and Parvati, or appeared mysteriously and was discovered by Shiva and Parvati. In a fit of jealous rage, Shiva cut Ganesha’s head off because he stood between himself and Parvati. Recognizing his mistake, Shiva performed surgical therianthropy, mending the boy’s severed body with the head of an elephant, that hideous, snake-handed beast.

Ganesha, elephant-headed boy, dances lightly on a mouse with his axe, rope, tusk and sweets in his four hands, and like the mouse slips into the secret places.
Lord of beginnings, Lord of obstacles, patron of arts and sciences, pot bellied dancer poised delicately on a rat, ready to spring to heroic action. All the cosmic eggs, past, present and future are contained within him. He resides at the original base, the Muladhara chakra. Vasuki, the Naga King, who was Vishnu’s churning rope in the sea of milk, encircles his neck.

Shiva’s first ambassador:
Shiva sent Dionysus home from India on an elephant and waited for a sign, a message from Europe. Alexander’s army arrived, furiously assailed the ivory palisade and was rebuffed.
Shiva’s second ambassador:
Annone was not Manuel’s emissary, but Shiva’s. The Portuguese were merely the vehicle, the rat that Ganesha danced from Vijayanagara to Rome. It was young Annone who infiltrated the walls of the Vatican, slipped into the secret places of the city. He inspired painters and poets, seduced the Lion and made him weep. Only Raffaello with his art could restore what Nature had stolen away.

Luca bos

May 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Pyrrhus’ elephants, animals not seen in Europe since the end of the Pleistocene, first encountered by Roman troops at Lucania in southern Italy, were dubbed “luca bos.” Commonly translated as Lucanian cow, or ox, they were terrifyingly big to the soldiers who faced them, bigger by far than the biggest ox.

These were Asian elephants, probably a sub species from Syria. According to linguist J.C. Billigmeier, the mahouts would have called the elephants lukabos, or something similar, in their own tongue.(1) Roman soldiers, perhaps prisoners of war, may have heard this word and repeated it when they got home.

Thus the etymology of the name may not be Lucanian, or Libyan or white cow as suggested by other scholars, but Lycian cow, since the mahouts were likely people of northern Syria who spoke a language close to Lycian.

(1) J.C. Billigmeier, Latin Lucabos “Elephant”, Studies in Anatolian, Italic and other Indo-European Languages, Arbeitman, ed. 1988