A blue and white elephant-pattern jardinière

明崇禎   青花掃象圖缸

The jardinière is of finely potted, deep rounded form with a very slightly trenched flat-topped rim, resting on a slightly concave unglazed base. The sides are painted with a scene showing an enormous, almost globular, four-tusked elephant standing on paw-like feet amid jars and basins in preparation for being washed. Its body is painted in graduated tones of underglaze-blue to indicate the furrowed hide. Its head is lowered and turned to its left to regard a group of figures comprising a monk, a military officer in a long, striped tunic and fur hat, holding a long scrubbing pole, and a second officer holding a banner. On the elephant’s other side stand two monks, one with a fly whisk. The scene is divided by swirling, banded cloud amid rockwork.

Swedish private collection, bought in London before 1980

Eight Transitional Treasures, 30th Anniversary Exhibition, Berwald Oriental Art, 2015 cat. no. 7, p. 38
Priestley & Ferraro, 'Symbol and Support.  The Elephant's Role in Chinese Art', November 2018, cat. no. 5

For a vase from the early Kangxi period decorated with a similar scene, though with a whiter-looking elephant, see “An Era of Inspiration, 17th Century Chinese Porcelains from the Collection of Julia and John Curtis”, Christie’s New York, 16th March 2015, lot 3569, where the origins of the scene are discussed in detail, p.36 and p.136. The author notes that an inscription on a painting of a similar scene by the artist Chen Zi (1632-1711) suggests that Ming scholars saw this subject as a rebus for “sweeping away illusions”, the word for “elephant” and “illusion” being the same. They also illustrate a woodblock illustration of a similar scene, ibid. p. 134, from the Fang Shi Mopu (Catalogue of Fang’s Ink Cake Designs), by Fang Yulu, active 1570-1619.


Dimensions: Height: 18.2 cm, 7 ¼ inches; Diameter: 21.5 cm, 8 ½ inches

Date: Ming dynasty, Chongzhen period (1628-1644)

Stock No. 1729

Price: Sold