The Pope’s White Elephant


“Since God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it” Pope Leo X

Hanno or Annone (1510– 1516), the white Asian elephant, was a gift to Pope Leo X from King Manuel I of Portugal. Elephants were not unknown in Europe but were mainly known as gifts of the rich and powerful, or, as in Rembrandt’s sketches of Hansken, performing animals.


File:Hanno mahout.edit-1.jpg

Anonymous – after Raphael

Below is an image of the poet Baraballo riding Hanno in a mock triumph ordered by Pope Leo X. Baraballo had declared himself superior to Petrarch and that he deserved to become Poet Laureate.  It really does not do to upset a Medici Pope…


Poor Hanno, who was said to genuflect and cry on seeing the Pope,  lived only two years in Rome, dying after being administered a purgative. The Pope was by his side when he died and composed his epitaph. Hannone’s tomb in the Cortile del Belevedere was designed by Raphael.


A Sketch of Hanno’s Memorial.

Under this great hill I lie buried

Mighty elephant which the King Manuel
Having conquered the Orient
Sent as captive to Pope Leo X.
At which the Roman people marvelled, —
A beast not seen for a long time,
And in my brutish breast they perceived human feelings.
Fate envied me my residence in the blessed Latium
And had not the patience to let me serve my master a full three years.
But I wish, oh gods, that the time which Nature would have assigned to me,
and Destiny stole away,
You will add to the life of the great Leo.

He lived seven years
He died of angina
He measured twelve palms in height.
Giovanni Battista Branconio dell’Aquila
Privy chamberlain to the pope
And provost of the custody of the elephant,
Has erected this in 1516, the 8th of June,
In the fourth year of the pontificate of Leo X.

That which Nature has stolen away
Raphael of Urbino with his art has restored.


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