Figure of an Elephant with Two Miniature Vases
On View: Asian Galleries, West, 2nd floor (China)
This object, with its multiple meanings, was most likely made in the imperial workshops in Beijing for use in the palace. An elephant carrying a vase on its back is a rebus for peaceful times. During the Qing dynasty, processions celebrating the emperor’s birthday featured real elephants carrying vases on their backs. This cloisonné elephant bears two vases, the upper vase in the shape of a double gourd inscribed with da ji, meaning “great fortune.” Depicted on the elephant’s saddle blanket, a rock rising from the ocean with a swastika above it also has multiple meanings: the rock means permanence, the waves signify abundance, and the swastika is a homophone of the Chinese word for “ten thousand” (wan), which signifies “infinity,” meaning that these blessings are multiplied limitlessly.
Cloisonné enamel on copper alloy
12 x 7 x 4 1/2 in. (30.5 x 17.8 x 11.4 cm)
elephant: 5 x 7 x 4 1/2 in. (12.7 x 17.8 x 11.4 cm) (show scale)
Gift of Samuel P. Avery
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Figure of an Elephant with Two Miniature Vases, 18th century. Cloisonné enamel on copper alloy, 12 x 7 x 4 1/2 in. (30.5 x 17.8 x 11.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Samuel P. Avery, 09.633a-c. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 09.633a-c_front_PS2.jpg)
front, 09.633a-c_front_PS2.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2009
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Rather small figure of an elephant bearing two miniature vases topped by a crown on its back. The animal is standing with its head turned to the right and with a large saddle blanket and bejeweled trappings. The first vase, securely fastened to the elephant's back, has a rather low foot, an ovoid body with high shoulders, and a medium sized neck with a concave outline. The second vase is of a double gourd shape, each body globular and the neck rather low, of medium width, and also concave in outline. The crown is in the shape of a concave plaque with a hollow depression in the center, from the underside of which projects a short tube. This is used to hold the crown in place. Copper, gilded on the rims and on certain parts of the elephant's anatomy and trappings. The rest of the outside surface is covered with cloisonné enamels. The elephant is a dirty white, streaked by the long undulating lines of the cloisons. His ears are pink. The trappings are in red, pink, dark blue and green. The large blanket, which has a gilt fringe, is decorated with a central panel containing sacred isle, wave, cloud, and swastika patterns, and is framed by a wide border of lotus scrolls. A smaller pad on top of this has a honeycomb design. The lower vase is patterned with lotus scrolls, ju i head and stiff leaf borders. The upper vase has two medallions on each side containing the characters ta chi, meaning great good fortune, set on a ground of lotus scrolls bordered by false gadroons. The crown has an outer fringe of bats, cut in openwork and enameled red, white, and green, and an inner border of false gadroons. The center depression is gilded. The colors of the enamel are dark blue, two shades of green, yellow, red, pink, and white, and the ground is usually turquoise. The surface of the enamel is pitted. The upper vase and the crown are now separate from the outer part. The lower vase is filled with some dark sticky substance.
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