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.

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Large as a snow mountain, the color of the moon…

May 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

The rare white elephant was highly venerated as a royal or temple elephant in India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Burma. The proverbial white elephant derives its title from the fact that albino elephants were reputedly difficult to control, and much care and expense was involved in their keeping. Annone was a white elephant. 

A Four-Year Old Asian Elephant at the Oregon Zoo

April 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Oregon Zoo in Portland, Oregon has one of the most successful captive elephant breeding programs in the world. Their elephants have been closely observed and meticulously cared for since the zoo began keeping them in 1953. Important discoveries in elephant biology and communication have been made at the Oregon Zoo.
The zoo is home to the four year-old male Asian elephant Samudra, known as Sam and sometimes called Roscoe by his keeper, elephant curator Bob Lee. Sam is about the same age as Annone was when he arrived in Rome in 1514.
Elephants vary considerably in size, depending on genetics, diet and other factors. Judging from the relative sizes of the mahout and the animal in Romano’s drawing, Annone appears to have been quite a bit taller than Sam, or else the men in the drawing are very short. The proportions of head to body size are also different in the two elephants.
Even at 4,000 pounds, a four year-old elephant is still immature. Sam’s mother will still allow him to nurse. He engages contentedly with a ball, kicking, picking it up and throwing it, sitting and rolling his huge body on top of it, in extended periods of pure play like a puppy or a child. It is reasonable to assume that Annone at age four was physiologically similar to Sam, that he had reached the same level of maturity, had the same ability to learn and desire to play.

Pope Leo the Lion

March 15, 2012 § 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.

Giovanni Capitone Aretino, 1514

“This lion” refers to Pope Leo X, and “oh elephant” to Annone.  (In 1514 there were still lions in North Africa, along with the Atlas bear and Barbary leopard, but no more elephants. More than a millennium before, thousands of North African mammals had been hunted, captured and taken to Rome to be slaughtered in public spectacles. The Barbary lion was extinct in the wild by 1922. A few leopards persist.)

Since the early 20th century, Lion of Libya has referred to Omar Mukhtar, leader of a guerrilla resistance to Italian colonialism from 1912 until he was captured and hanged in 1931. In 2009, while on a state visit to Rome, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, another Lion of Libya, wore a photograph of Mukhtar hanging on his chest. A film  about Mukhtar, “Lion of the Desert”, originally banned in 1982 by Italian authorities, was broadcast on national television during Gadffi’s visit.

Images of Annone

March 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

Annone, Giulio Romano after Raffaello, 1516

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

King Manuel I riding an elephant, from Lietura Nova, first half 16th century

Annone, woodcut c.1514

4 Studies of an Elephant, by Giulio Romano, 1514-1518

“The Wheel of the Elephant”, S. Fanti, 1526

Annone

March 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

Annone is the Italian name given to a young, white elephant, purchased in Cochin, on the southwest coast of India, by Portuguese traders in 1511 and transported by ship to Lisbon. There he joined a menagerie of exotic animals belonging to King Manuel I, collected from around the rapidly expanding Portuguese empire. When Giovanni di Lorenzo de’ Medici became Pope Leo X in 1513, King Manuel sent ships loaded with treasures, including the elephant, to Rome as part of an elaborate gift intended to dazzle the Pope and win support for Portugal’s empire building project. The elephant instantly charmed Leo and become his beloved pet. Indeed, all of Rome was smitten by the beast, which became the toast of the city. Annone was housed inside the Vatican in a specially built enclosure and pampered by Leo who visited him almost daily. Until his untimely death on June 8, 1516, Annone played a significant role in the pageantry and public life of Rome, inspiring artists, poets and political satirists. Devastated by the elephant’s demise, Pope Leo commissioned the artist Raffaello to paint Annone’s portrait. The life-size fresco was installed on a wall near St.Peter’s, together with a commemorative plaque written by the pope himself, and remained there for nearly a hundred years.

This blog will tell Annone’s story, and a bigger story of elephants in art and imagination, in the hope of inspiring a new generation of artists and writers, as we approach the 500th anniversary of his official arrival in Rome in March, 2014.

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