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The Royal Elephant

Rosso Fiorentino1533/1539

Château de Fontainebleau
Château de Fontainebleau

Created in 1528 to link the royal apartments to the Trinitarian monastery, the François I Gallery was decorated by Florentine painter Rosso Fiorentino and his assistants between 1533 and 1539. The frescoes and stucco frames were designed to celebrate the monarch, although their precise meaning is now hard to undestand.

"The Royal Elephant" is one of the most famous scenes in the Gallery. The Elephant itself symbolizes wisdom and royalty, whilst the stork at its feet represents filial devotion. Around the Royal Elephant, the three people could be Neptune, Jupiter and Pluto, representing the three elements over which reigns François I, as a new Alexander the Great. Indeed, in the stucco panel under the fresco, Alexander himself is portrayed cutting the Gordian knot.

The Elephant is also a symbol of chastity, to which are opposed Jupiter abducting Europe on one side, and Saturn abducting Philyra on the other, both reduced to animality by their desires. On the left of the main fresco, the redhead man could be a self-portrait of Rosso himself.

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