Of the many drawings he [G. Bernini} presented the pope with, the elephant was chosen. Bernini had been inspired by Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Poliphil's Dream of The Love Battle), a novel by Francesco Colonna which was rather well-known at the time. The first edition of Hypnerotomachia had been released in Venice in 1499 by the famous printer Aldus Manutius. In this book, full of symbolic references, Poliphil encounters an elephant made of stone who carries an obelisk, and it is easy to tell how much Bernini's idea was inspired by this work from the book's original engraving. In his original plan though, the obelisk would have fully rested on the elephant's legs, without a stand below the animal. But Father Paglia (quite envious for having been rejected) argued that according to the traditional canons, by which no weight should rest vertically above an empty space, as it would not be steady nor long-lasting', a cube should have been inserted under the elephant's belly (just as in the picture from the Hypnerotomachia). Bernini was orered to design the pedestal of the obelisk in an elephant form. The sculpture was executed by Ercole Ferrata. *** On the postament, the Latin inscriptions are carved referring to the date of its erection, the pope responsible, and 'He who sees the carved images of the wisdom of Egypt on the obelisk carried by the elephant, the strongest of animals, will realize that it is indeed a robust mind which sustains a solid wisdom.'
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