A rare pale green and brown jade carving of an elephant and man
Song Dynasty or later
The elephant carved with its head slightly turned, a swaying trunk between a pair of fitted tusks and a short thick tail, standing with the figure of a man using the bend of one lowered back leg to climb up its body on one side, the man detailed wearing high-waisted trousers and a rounded flat-crowned hat, the stone of pale grey-green with varying brown tones and opaque buff inclusions.
10.5cm (4in) wide
Published and Illustrated 出版:
Art and Imitation in China, Hong Kong, 2006, pp.158-159, no.48
University Museum and Art Gallery, The University of Hong Kong (14 October - 17 December 2006)
This group recalls an earlier portrayal of the monumental mammal with a foreigner naturalistically captured in the motion of rising from a seated posture, with the foreign mahout clambering up on one side of the elephant.
The elephant represents strength, wisdom and prudence. Elephant, 象 xiang, is a pun for 'sign', written and pronounced exactly the same way. Riding on an elephant, 騎象 qixiang, is a homophone for 'may there be good fortune', 吉祥 jixiang.
Large mammals such as the elephant and rhinoceros existed in Central and Southern China since the Shang and Zhou dynasties but they soon became extinct. This has been attested by archaeological evidence and depictions in archaic ritual bronzes of these periods. Such rare archaeological relics are housed in important museum collections around the world: see two examples of late Shang dynasty archaic bronze elephant-shaped zun in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., and another in the Musée Guimet, Paris, illustrated in Zhongguo Qingtongqi Quanji. Shang 4, Beijing, 1998, pp.126 and 128, nos.129 and 131. Compare also an excavated example in the Hunan Provincial Museum, Hunan, unearthed at Shixingshan, Liling, Hunan Province in 1975, illustrated in ibid., Beijing, 1998, p.127, no.130.