Japanese. Meiji Period, Late Nineteenth Or Early Twentieth Century.


Height: 13 1/2" (34.3 cm)
Width: 12" (30.5 cm)
Depth: 10" (25.4 cm).

Of bronze. Naturalistically modeled as the head of an Asian elephant.

Stamped with a seal of Japanese characters reading:
Kaneda sei (made by Kaneda)

This bronze sculpture of an Asian elephant belongs to a long tradition of portraying this majestic and awe-inspiring animal in art, architecture and decorative objects. In the Far East, the elephant symbolized divinity, benevolence and fortune. From its first introduction in the West it came to be associated with royalty, emblematic of imperial power and fortitude. Even as royal menageries and modern-day zoological gardens emerged, the elephant remained a curiosity to Europeans, and this sculpture would have been an object of interest both for its exotic subject matter and country of origin.

The sculpture is remarkable for its beautifully rendered naturalistic modeling, as well as an astounding attention to detail by the sculptor. Such careful treatment extends subtle features such as the asymmetric flapping backward of the left ear. There is also an expressive dimension which captures the spirit of the creature depicted. Such insightful reading of animals and the natural world places the bronzes within the centuries-old Japanese Zen culture in art.

The exceptional levels of quality achieved in metalwork created during the late-Meiji period is explainable by reason of the following. During the Edo period, metalworkers produced magnificent weaponry and armor for the Daimyo (high-ranking feudal lords) and Samurai, who themselves customarily wore two swords. However, the act of wearing swords in public was abolished in 1876 with the Haitorei edict and with that, the patronage of swordsmen disappeared, leaving craftsmen in search of other outlets for their talents. To maintain economic stability, these highly-skilled metalworkers turned their efforts toward the production of decorative objects.

Full research report available on request.

Full research report available on request.