Ceramics in Mainland Southeast Asia:
Collections in the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

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Vessel in the form of an elephant with rider

  • Stoneware with celadon glaze
  • 18.2 x 20.6 x 10.5 cm
  • Sawankhalok ware
  • 15th-16th century, Ayutthaya period
  • Origin: Ban Pa Yang kilns, Si Satchanalai, Sukhothai province, North-central Thailand
  • Gift of Osborne and Gratia Hauge, and Victor and Takako Hauge
  • S2005.293


Hand modelled elephant with a rider holding a cup-shaped vessel on its back.
Clay: grey stoneware with black inclusions.
Glaze: celadon, glossy, crazed; lower feet unglazed.
Decoration: none.

Curatorial Remarks

1. (Candy Chan, Research Assistant, May 25, 2003) Elephant figurines of this type were made in the Pa Yang kilns in Sisatchanalai. They were possibly used as propitiatory offerings to the spirits. They are still used nowadays in Thailand (Shaw 1987, 27).

Elephants are numerous among those Sisatchanalai figurines. They generally have Buddhist association and are perceived as sacred animals in the Buddhist world. The Bodhisattva appeared in the form of an elephant in a dream of Queen Maya, leading to the conception and birth of Prince Siddhartha, who finally achieved enlightenment as a Buddha (Spinks 1971, 75–88, pls. 40–41).

Shaw, John C. 1987. Introducing Thai Ceramics; also Burmese and Khmer. Chiang Mai: Duangphorn Kemasingki.

 Spinks, Charles N. 1971. The Ceramic Wares of Siam. Bangkok: The Siam Society.

2. (Louise Cort, 12 February 2005) Fragments of two vessels of this type, in the form of elephants, are in the Kamratan (Fujiwara) collection in Kyoto, and are published in Toyama Satō Bijutsukan 2002, pl. 172. One figure has a spout with flaring rim opening from the top of the elephant's head, while a rider with a stick (the mahout?) sits just behind the head. A scar in the glaze suggests that a second figure was mounted further back but is now broken off. The harness straps are indicated by incising. The other elephant has no spout, but one rider with a stick sits just behind the head and a second, slightly smaller, figure sits toward the read. The head of the smaller figure broke off during the firing and is stuck to the glaze on the elephant's back. The dates for these figures are given as 14th–16th century.

The collection also includes two celadon-glazed heads of elephants, one with a mahout leaning on crossed arms resting on the elephant's head.

A celadon-glazed elephant leg from a figure like this one was collected by John Pope at the Ban Koh Noi kilns, Si Satchanalai (FSC-P-2408).

Toyama Satō Bijutsukan (Sato Memorial Art Museum Toyama), ed. 2002. Tōnan Ajia no kotōji VIII—Tai no yakimono Sunkoroku [Ancient ceramics of Southeast Asia VIII—Sawankhalok ware of Thailand], South-East Asian Ceramics from the Kamratan Collection Toyama: Toyama Satō Bijutsukan.

3. (Louise Cort, 27 March 2008) A related celadon-glazed Sawankhalok figure of an elephant with mahout sitting on the shoulder, just behind the head and in front of the cup-shaped attachment, is in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (acc. no. M.84.213.62), as a gift of Ambassador and Mrs. Edward E. Masters. It is identified as a "lamp in the form of a man on an elephant" and dated 15th–16th century.

4. (Louise Cort, 20 May 2008) Roxanna Brown documented a celadon-glazed figure of a horse with rider and four foot soldiers or attendants recovered from the Belanakan shipwreck, which she dates to circa 1424/30–1487 (Brown 2004, pl. 58-4). The ship also carried celadon-glazed dishes and jars with ring handles, together with Vietnamese celadon and blue-and-white.

Changed Date from 14th–mid 16th century to 15th–16th century.

Brown, Roxanna Maude. 2004. "The Ming Gap and Shipwreck Ceramics in Southeast Asia". Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Art History, University of California, Los Angeles.

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