Lot 2
  • 2


50,000 - 70,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Height 6 3/4  in., 17.1 cm
finely carved in low relief in profile, with a docile expression, the hooded eyes gazing up and sensitively rendered, with a network of incised cross-hatched lines on the crown of the head simulating a harness, naturalistic ridges carved in concentric lines tapering down the trunk towards the base of a tusk, the large flat ear set behind, with inscribed accession number 22.35, mounted on a wood stand (2)


Frank Caro, successor to C.T. Loo, New York, circa 1959.
Collection of Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978).

Catalogue Note

The elephant in Buddhist iconography can appear in varying contexts. One commonly seen in Chinese Mahayana Buddhist art is that which carries Samantabhadra (Mandarin: Puxian pusa) one of the most commonly worshipped bodhisattva in the Chinese tradition. Other appearances of the elephant in Buddhism are the self-sacrificing white elephant from the Jataka tales, and the anecdote of the six-tusked elephant king. As the present elephant's gaze looks up almost adoringly while keeping the head forward and steady for a possible rider, it would appear to be the bearer of Samantabhadra, gazing up at the holy figure seated on its back.  Compare with Tang dynasty white marble elephant figures, including one unearthed in the northern regions of Xi'an and now housed in the Xi'an Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, illustrated in The Glory of the Silk Road: Art form Ancient China, The Dayton Art Institute, Dayton, 2003, cat. no. 78. Another example was sold at Christie's New York, 19th March 2008, lot 392. Other examples of Tang dynasty elephant figures can be found in ceramic form. Several white-glazed examples supporting candelabra are recorded, including an elaborate caparisoned example sold in these rooms, 17th October 2001, lot 96, and another sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 1st June 2016, lot 3102. 

Elephants created by Chinese artists were typically modeled with a T-form harness over the head, as seen in the examples cited above. The present example has a harness of diagonal crisscrosses, similar to some Gandharan depictions, such as a schist example once in the Masaki Art Museum, Osaka, attributed to the second or third century, illustrated in Sumino Irodori: Osaka Masaki Bijutsukan Sanjunentenjizuroku [Colors of Ink: Osaka Masaki Art Museum 30 Years Anniversary Exhibition], Nezu Museum, Tokyo, 1998, cat. no. 82., and sold in these rooms 11th September 2012, lot 104. The Masaki elephant's harness extends over the face, perhaps a more realistic model of a practical apparatus, while the present fragment's harness lies solely on the cap of the head, betraying at once the decorative nature of Chinese elephant harnesses (recalling the T-form harnesses so often see in cloisonné, ceramic, and other media of Chinese depictions), as well as the inspiration derived from stone sculpture of neighboring cultures.