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HOME : Chinese Art : Han Dynasty : Painted Pottery Vessel in the Shape of an Elephant
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Painted Pottery Vessel in the Shape of an Elephant - LA.529
Origin: China
Circa: 220 BC to 206 AD
Dimensions: 6" (15.2cm) high
Collection: Chinese Art

Location: Great Britain
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Painted pottery vessel in the shape of a walking elephant, his trunk slightly curved upwards, his ears bent backwards, the small tusks projecting forward, his open-wide eyes incised. His knees emphasized with corrugated incised lines, the surface painted with swirling clouds in red and white against a black background. From the upper central opening on his back, where a saddle must have been envisaged, three cordoned trappings radiate to surround the belly, the hindquarters and the neck.

This is an image of a domesticated elephant used for parading. During the Han Dynasty, geographic boundaries of the Han state stretched to include much of Central Asia, through the Silk Road and South-East Asia, encountering different cultures and, of course, exotic animals never seen before. Indeed in the case of elephants it is thought that during the Han period, they were quite common in Yunnan in south-western China. Yet the knowledge of this much revered and useful animal must have been transmitted further north where various pictorial renditions are available, from the most realist to the least credible.

One also has to remember that during the reign of Han Wudi, parading of exotic animals was quite a common sight in Xi’an, and elephants were probably shown as tributes to the emperor from distant provinces, evoking much clamour on the streets.

The presence of such an animal in a burial environment would perfectly fit into the contemporary interest (possibly obsession) in exoticism typical of the Western Han period. The abstract rendition of its skin, also, which was inspired by contemporary embroidery and textile patterns is in tune with the fashion of the time. - (LA.529)


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