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Learn/ Educators/ Curriculum Resources/ Art of the Islamic World/ Unit Seven: Trade and Artistic Exchange/ Chapter One: Ceramics in China and the Near East/ Featured Works of Art: Images 41–44/ Image 44

Image 44

Elephant-shaped drinking vessel (kendi  )
Second quarter of the 17th century
Iran, probably Kirman
Stonepaste; painted in shades of blue under transparent glaze; H. 9 1/8 in. (23.2 cm), W. 7 1/8 in. (18.1 cm), Diam. 4 5/8 in. (11.7 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Friends of the Department of Islamic Art Fund, 1968 (68.180)

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Cultural exchange and trade, China and Iran, Ming dynasty, Safavid empire, elephant, lotus, geometric ornament, stonepaste

This object illustrates a late phase in the artistic interconnections between China and Iran, when domestically produced wares in Iran were strikingly similar to Chinese models.

This jar most likely served as a drinking vessel or a base for a water pipe, but was above all appreciated for its decorative qualities. Persian potters adopted the form from similar Chinese wares (fig. 51).

This vessel takes the form of a seated elephant with a cylinder on its back. The decoration, in underglaze-blue paint, extends along the entire body. The cylinder, into which the liquid would be poured, sits upon a flowerlike collar embellished with painted birds and flowers. Garlands and hanging tassels adorn the neck and rear of the elephant. A blanket, thrown across the elephant's back, is divided into four decorative quadrants on each side and features a stylized lotus flower (another Chinese import).

An important difference between Persian and Chinese examples is the smooth white porcelain body that was unique to China. Craftsmen in Persia were unfamiliar with the main raw ingredient, white kaolin clay. They also had no knowledge of the complex firing technique, which involved specially constructed, high-temperature kilns. Works made of stonepaste, such as this example, reflect an attempt to re-create the smooth white surface of Chinese porcelain and were often painted in cobalt-blue pigment, which was mined in Iran and was both used locally and exported to China. The blue-and-white wares produced in China were avidly collected in Iran and later in Europe. The demand for blue-and-white wares stimulated the production of domestic imitations in many regions. Eventually, Persian potters achieved a level of mastery that enabled them to sell blue-and-white stonepaste pieces to the Dutch, who appreciated them as replicas of Chinese porcelain.

Fig. 51. Elephant-shaped drinking vessel (kendi), Ming dynasty (1368–1644), late 16th century; China; porcelain painted in underglaze blue; H. to top of spout 7 in. (17.8 cm), L. 6 1/2 in. (16.5 cm); The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Seymour Fund, funds from various funds and Stanley Herzman Gift, 2003 (2003.232)

This kendi is a Chinese original—the white translucent surface readily distinguishes the material as porcelain. The strength and malleability of this material enabled the artist to shape the trunk and contour of the head with greater precision than in the Persian example.


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