Elly, Bernini's Roman chick
The Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva is a nominal minor basilica and one of the most important churches of the Roman Catholic Dominican order in Rome. The church–located in Piazza della Minerva virtually beside the Pantheon–is considered the only Gothic church in the city. It houses the tombs of St. Catherine of Siena and the Dominican painter Beato Angelico; and the marble Cristo della Minerva, also known as Christ the Redeemer or Christ Carrying the Cross. This stunning sculpture by Michelangelo is located to the left of the main altar.
Funny that the father of modern astronomy Galileo Galilei, after being tried for heresy in the adjoining Dominican monastery, was forced to abjure his scientific beliefs in this church in 1633–considering it was built directly over (sopra) the foundations of a temple dedicated to the sultry Egyptian goddess of fertility Isis, and later erroneously assimilated to Minerva, the Roman name for pagan Athena.
In front of the church stands one of Rome's most curious monuments, the Pulcino della Minerva. It portrays an elephant and it is the base supporting an ancient Egyptian obelisk. The sturdy appearance of the elephant earned it the popular nickname of "Porcino" (pig-like) for a while. The name eventually changed to Pulcino, Italian for a little "chick."
Gian Lorenzo Bernini was not only the person responsible for designing this interesting sculpture. Along with Pope Alexander VII's complicity, he was the mastermind behind one of history's most irreverent artistic pranks. His plans and drawings of the pachyderm–later completed in 1667 by his pupil Ercole Ferrara–placed the elephant in such a way that its rear end faced towards the obtuse Dominicans in the adjacent convent, while the trunk and the tail–wagged naughtily to the left–accentuated the mischievous prankster's offensive intentions.
That cheeky Bernini...