A carved boxwood elephant group

清十九/二十世紀    黃楊木大象

The elephant is superbly carved standing with the head lowered and the trunk curled up to investigate a vase of lingzhi fungus presented by a foreign tribute bearer. Its right ear is raised, as if listening to what the foreigner is saying. On its back sit the Hehe Erxian Twin Immortals, holding a basket with further lingzhi fungus. A saddle-cloth with tasselled hem is thrown over the high domed back of the elephant, and is lightly incised with a design of flowers. The tail, cleverly carved to incorporate a lighter-coloured insert into the wood, curls around the hindquarters. The material is patinated to a deep tone overall.

Art and Imitation in China, The Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2006, cat. no. 50.
“The Peony Collection”, Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 31st May 2018, lot 338.

The same iconography, with the tribute bearer by the elephant’s side and a boy or boys on the elephant’s back, is found more frequently in bamboo, for instance Sotheby’s Paris, 22nd June, 2017, lot 151. The vase held by the tribute bearer allows us to read the group as a rebus for taiping you xiang, 太平有象, “when there is peace there are signs”, while the figures on top, being elephantriders (qixiang, 騎象) form a rebus for jixiang, 吉祥, “blessings”. The boys interpreted here as the Twin Immortals, the Hehe Erxian, symbolic of harmony and union, lend good wishes for a happy marriage, suggesting that perhaps the group was intended as a wedding gift. 

Dimensions: Height: 10.7 cm, 4¼ inches

Date: Qing dynasty (1644-1911), 19th/20th century

Stock No. 2259

Price: On Request