Cardinal Carlo Carafa, Letters Patent granting the office of count of the Sacred Palace of the Lateran to Giovanni Battista, son of Claudio Agucchi of Bologna, in Latin, illuminated manuscript document on parchment [Italy (Rome or Bologna), dated 1557]
Large single-sheet document, with text in 18 long lines of a fine italic hand, first and last lines in blue and liquid gold capitals with further words in gold with blue initial letters, crucial words in main document in liquid gold, decorated upper and vertical borders enclosing gilt and coloured scrolling foliage with realistic flowers and bare-chested caryatids, this upper border enclosing the arms of Pope Paul IV, Cardinal Carafa and the ducal family of the Carafa, and at the foot of the extensions in the upright borders what are evidently the armorial devices of Giovanni Battista, son of Claudio Agucchi: an elephant sable, with a castle on its back, standing on a grassy landscape (left) and a lion rampant d'or on azure standing atop three hills and holding a cross fleury gules, all beneath three fleur-de-lys d'or (right), all within gold frames, place of issuing and final part of date omitted at end (causing later endorsing hand on verso to give wrong date of '1550'; but the correct year established by the papal regnal year: Paul IV 2), slight damage along folds including small holes, some small chipping to paint of border in places, seal and seal tag wanting, overall good condition, 323+155 by 746mm.
The grantor of this attractive document, Carlo Carafa (1517-61), stood out as a notoriously vicious politician in an age when such men were commonplace. The arms at the head of this document betray the fact that he owed his cardinalate to his uncle, Gian Pietro Carafa (Pope Paul IV from 1555), and in fact was appointed only two weeks after his uncle's election (and only a few years after Carafa was accused of being involved in an assassination, and exiled from his native Naples for murder and banditry). Through this papal connection he was able to segue from a career as a mercenary general into papal high office, but fell from grace on the death of his uncle in 1559, and was quickly exiled from Rome, arrested on the orders of Pope Pius IV the year after, and executed by strangulation.
The elephant in the arms in the lower left hand border here deserves especial mention. This armorial device is most probably that of the recipient of the document, albeit an untraced member of one of the lines of a Bolognese noble family. The elephant was used as the symbol of a handful of towns and families in Renaissance Italy, but none with any meaningful connection to the Agucchi family in general, and instead, it may be a nod here to the elephant-mania that gripped Rome and then the rest of northern Italy from 1514 onwards. The arrival of a live elephant in some part of Western Europe was almost always followed by an explosion of interest in them and their widespread appearance in the arts. In the opening years of the sixteenth century, with Portuguese power in India growing, King Manuel I, began to build up a stable of 'elephants of state' in Lisbon, seizing seven of these beasts as war booty at Malacca in 1511. In 1514 he presented an elephant named Hanno to the Pope - the first live elephant in Rome since antiquity (see D.F. Lach, 'Asian Elephants in Renaissance Europe', Journal of Asian History , 1, 1967, pp. 133-76; and S. Bedini, The Pope's Elephant , 1997). Hanno quickly became the Pope's favourite among the papal menagerie, and took part in parades around Rome. Hanno died in 1516, and was buried in the Cortile del Belvedere in the Papal palace, with Raphael commissioned to produce a pachydermic fresco (now lost) and the Pope himself composing the epitaph. However, Hanno's influence was not just confined to Rome, and echoes of his image have been found in Mantua and even in Bologna, in the design of the Palazzo Fantuzzi there in 1517, which has prominent elephants on its façade following the recent adoption of the animal as the armorial device of the Fantuzzi. Here in this document we appear to have one of the last echoes of Hanno, adopted as an armorial emblem by a man who may have seen Hanno himself some 41 years before this charter was created.