In 1655, a new Pope, Alexander VII, fired with religious zeal, political guile, and a mania for building, determined to restore the prestige of his Church by making Rome the must-visit destination for Europe’s elite. To help him do so he enlisted the talents of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, already celebrated as the most important artist of the age.
Together Alexander VII and Bernini made one of the great double acts in history, inventing the concept of soft power and the bucket list destination. Bernini and Alexander’s creation of Baroque Rome, a city grander and more beautiful than since the days of the Emperor Augustus, continues to delight and attract.
Loyd Grossman’s love of Rome was kindled by his first encounter with the enigmatic monument to this relationship between artist and pope: the elephant carrying an obelisk outside the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, just behind the Pantheon. Using the elephant as his starting point, Grossman teases out all the intertwined strands of history, power and art that make up the Baroque.