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Stalling Elephant

Asian Art

This delicately painted image shows an elephant refusing to obey its two drivers (mahouts). Elephants were prized possessions for India’s aristocracy, and they were used for transportation in battle, when hunting, and on ritual occasions. Elephants consume large quantities of food each day, so they are exceedingly expensive to keep. Because elephants are so large, and because taming elephants can be difficult and dangerous, these animals became important emblems of a ruler’s power and leadership skills.

Close examination of this painting reveals that the body of the elephant, its saddle blanket, and the costumes of the two mahouts are rendered in marbleized patterns, a decorative effect that is achieved by swirling oil-based paints on the surface of water and then lowering paper carefully onto the paint. The artist would have had to repeat this process at least four times to achieve the different colors and patterns in this painting, using stencils or some sort of resist coating to keep the paint in the desired areas. This highly specialized technique was practiced briefly in only one or two courts in the southern Indian region known as the Deccan and appears to have fallen out of use after the seventeenth century.
MEDIUM Ink, gold and watercolor on paper
  • Place Made: Deccan region, India
  • DATES mid 17th century
    DIMENSIONS Sheet: 6 1/2 x 4 7/8 in. (16.5 x 12.4 cm)  (show scale)
    INSCRIPTIONS seal at left margin previously thought illegible, date "A.H. 1105" (A.D. 1693-94) and regnal year "2" later deciphered (per "Journey Through Asia" catalogue, 2003)
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    CREDIT LINE Gift of Dr. Bertram H. Schaffner in celebration of his 90th Birthday
    RIGHTS STATEMENT No known copyright restrictions
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    CAPTION Indian. Stalling Elephant, mid 17th century. Ink, gold and watercolor on paper, Sheet: 6 1/2 x 4 7/8 in. (16.5 x 12.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Dr. Bertram H. Schaffner in celebration of his 90th Birthday, 2002.38
    IMAGE overall, 2002.38_IMLS_SL2.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
    "CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION The mahout seated on the rear of the elephant sports a long moustache with fine shadowing of beard on his face, his right arm extended and the index finger hooked around the rope which holds the saddle cloth in place. A younger mahout seated in front, with delicate features, leans over the elephant's head, a goad in his right hand and his left arm raised with his hand held against his forehead indicating that he is directing the elephant to take a bow. This action is evidenced by the elephant's pose with forelegs outstretched and trunk raised. The beast is adorned with bells on chains, suspended from long ropes across his body. The Stalling Elephant with Two Riders is a tour de force of the marbler's art, representing a fleeting tradition in Deccani painting. According to the analysis by Christopher Weimann, the marbled areas of this painting were produced by means of four stencils, one for the figures' robes, one for the upper saddle cloth, one for the lower saddle cloth, and one for the elephant. Not only do the colors of each marbled passage vary but also the direction of the marbling contrasts from section to section. As Weimann notes, the patterns formed by the marbling heighten the sense of movement and define the contours of the elephant's body. The tree and birds in the background, the figures' faces, and the bells, ropes, and shawls were all painted and highlighted with gold once the marbling was complete. While the riders' faces conform to mid-seventeenth-century Mughal norms, the evidence available on marbled paintings of the seventeenth century strongly supports an attribution of the group to a Deccani workshop, probably located at Bijapur.
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