This object in the shape of a seated elephant with cobalt blue and white designs is clearly modeled on a kendi, a type of Chinese drinking vessel. Unlike the Chinese originals, this Safavid example is made of stonepaste rather than porcelain and the elephant’s features are not as naturalistic.
This vessel from Safavid Iran in the shape of a seated elephant with cobalt blue, bluish gray, and white designs has been clearly modeled on a kendi, a Ming Chinese drinking vessel of the Wanli period (1573–1620). Kendis were exported from China to Europe, Iran, and the Ottoman Empire, where they were often copied and adapted to suit local taste. While it is not clear how Iranians used such vessels, they could have been used as bases for water pipes, or qalians, or merely as decorative objects in the prestigious Chinese style.
The original Chinese kendis belong to a category of porcelain known as kraak, after a type of large Dutch trading ship that transported such wares. Iran was one of the first places to produce kraak imitations. The present example differs from the Chinese prototype in both material and execution: it is made of stonepaste rather than porcelain, and the elephant’s features are rendered in low relief and less naturalistically. The coiled trunk found on Chinese kendis is also absent here. However, in both the Iranian and Chinese examples, the body is surmounted by a tall, cylindrical neck, by which the vessel was held, while the elephant’s short trunk functioned as a spout.
Closely following the Chinese original, the decoration here is executed in cobalt blue, with grayish blue outlines, on a white ground under a clear glaze. A fringed saddlecloth with an elaborate key-fret design and trappings with long ribbons and tassels cover the animal’s body and neck. The tubular neck is painted with floral sprays, birds, and butterflies. Lisa Golombek has applied the term transitional style to this type of blue-and-white ware, on which a blue design is outlined in bluish gray or black, and has assigned it to Kirman in the second quarter of the seventeenth century.
Maryam Ekhtiar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
Mrs. Silvana Aliati Elliot, Milan (until 1968; sold to MMA)
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Ettinghausen, Richard. "Reports of the Departments: Islamic Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 28, no. 2 (1969). pp. 79-81, ill. p. 80 (b/w).
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Welch, Anthony, ed. Shah 'Abbas and the Arts of Isfahan. New York: Asia House Gallery, 1973. no. 82, pp. 115,119, ill. p. 115 (b/w).
Carswell, John. "Catalogue of an exhibition at David and Alfred Smart Gallery, University of Chicago." In Blue and White: Chinese Porcelain and Its Impact on the Western World. University of Chicago: University of Chicago, 1985. no. 84, pp. 144-145, ill. p. 144 (b/w).
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 156, pp. 230-231, ill. p. 230 (color).
Ekhtiar, Maryam, and Claire Moore, ed. "A Resource for Educators." In Art of the Islamic World. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. pp. 216-217, ill. pl. 44 (color).