Historical period(s)
Song dynasty, 960-1279
H x W x D: 5.3 x 11.8 x 7.6 cm (2 1/16 x 4 5/8 x 3 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Arthur M. Sackler
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Figure: elephant

China, elephant, Song dynasty (960 - 1279), WWII-era provenance
Provenance information is currently unavailable

Without much distortion of the original shape of the stone, an artisan produced in this piece a winsome elephant, which as a motif has a long history in Chinese art. The animal was prized as a source of the favored luxury good, ivory, and was also associated with symbolic meanings. The Chinese word for elephant (xiang) sounds like another word meaning "image" or "emblem," so the animal was considered to symbolize a visible manifestation of the hidden workings of the cosmos.

This carving is difficult to date with certainty, but the sensitive, almost naturalistic portrayal of the elephant suggests a date in the Song dynasty. The precise articulation of the individual toes, including on the underside of the feet, is another feature typical of Song dynasty workmanship. Members of the scholar class liked to collect jades because they felt the innate qualities of the stone--its hardness and smooth tactile quality--were good metaphors for the integrity and purity of a gentleman.

Published References
  • Bo Gyllensvard. Celadon, Jade: Finds, Specimen, Scientific Results; Exhibition. Exh. cat. Stockholm, May-June 1963. no. 156.
  • The Arts of the Ming Dynasty. no. 30 London. cat. 352.
  • Daisy Lion-Goldschmidt, Jean-Claude Moreau-Gobard. Chinese Art: Bronze, Jade, Sculpture, Ceramics. The Universe Library of Antique Art 4 vols., , 1st edition. London and New York. pl. 88.
  • Chinese Jade Animals. Exh. cat. Hong Kong. cat. 100.
  • Jessica Rawson, John Ayers. Chinese Jade Throughout the Ages: An Exhibit. Exh. cat. London. cat. 205, 73.
  • John Johnston, Chan Lai Pik. 5000 Years of Chinese Jade. Exh. cat. San Antonio, Texas, 2011. cat. 50, p. 85.
  • et al. Asian Art in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery: The Inaugural Gift. Washington, 1987. cat. 88, p. 135.
  • Jean-Pierre Dubosc. Mostra d'arte Cinese: Catalogo. Exh. cat. Venice. p. 233.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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