The Pope’s Elephant: Silvio A. Bedini

An “utterly charming”(The Observer) look at the white Indian elephant who became the darling of Pope Leo X and Renaissance Europe.

In 1514, Rome, the Eternal City, was the center of the Chrisitian world and home and workshop to Raphael, Leonardo, and Michelangelo. It was also the city of Pope Leo X, the pleasure-loving pontiff whose court was infamous for its excess, frivolity and impropriety, as well as for its newly-arrived white elephant Hanno. Hanno became a star feature in processions and festivals, and the subject of countless paintings, sculptures and fountains. In this fascinating glimpse at a forgotten sidenote to history, Silvio A. Bedini gives us an elephant’s-back view of early modern Europe and the inner workings of the Vatican at the height of its influence. Charmingly written with dozens of accompanying photographs and illustrations, The Pope’s Elephant will delight readers just as Hanno delighted the people of Rome five centuries ago.

“A work of extraordinary scholarship. . . . Crisply written and amply illustrated, it shines a bright light on two short lives, that of Leo and Hanno, and that of the age they embodied.”– The Literary Review Review

In early 16th century Rome, at the height of the Italian Renaissance, when artists such as Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo thrived in the Holy City, the decadent court of Pope Leo X was a place where visitors could find pleasures and entertainment more exotic than anything they had previously imagined. Among the Pope’s great joys was his menagerie of exotic animals, and the prize of his collection was an Indian elephant named Hanno, presented to him by the King of Portugal. The Pope’s Elephant by Silvio A. Bedini, historian emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution, describes Hanno’s powerful effect on the Papal Court and on the Roman citizenry. This elephant–trained to kneel, dance, weep, and trumpet on command–led parades and entertained at public festivals and was commemorated in paintings, poetry, and sculpture. For Romans, Hanno became the preeminent symbol of the alluring Orient; for Pope Leo’s detractors, the elephant became a symbol of Roman corruption. Bedini’s rigorous research and eager enthusiasm for his subject and his judicious selection of whimsical illustrations make reading The Pope’s Elephant a quirky and delightful pastime. –Michael Joseph Gross

About the Author

A Vatican scholar and the author of numerous books, Silvio A. Bedini is Historian Emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where he has worked for many years as Deputy Director of the National Museum of History and as Keeper of the Rare Books.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Penguin Books; 0 edition (April 1, 2000)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 320 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0140288627
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0140288629
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 9.6 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 5.34 x 0.73 x 7.96 inches

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