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. . . is for elephant

Elephant-Decorated Earthenware Vessel

Height: 34.0 cm. (13 3/8 in.)
Diameter: 29.9 cm. (11 3/4 in.)

Tang dynasty
Mid 8th century

Walter Hochstadter

The surface of the unglazed earthenware egg-shaped vessel is divided into vertical quadrants linked at the top with swags fastened with rosettes that drape palmette-style leaves framing a decorative motif in the center. Two of the quadrants are decorated with strongly sculpted heads of elephants, the other two with monster masks in relief.

This type of vessel has been discovered in Tang tombs of around the mid 8th century. The lids found with such vessels are in the form of stupa finials, stupas housing relics of the Buddha and their finials formed from stacked discs of descending size, the inspiration behind the form of the typical Chinese pagoda. Since the receptacle is presumed to be inspired by a Buddhist reliquary form and further decorated with the images of an elephant, a powerful Buddhist reference through the elephant’s association with the great bodhisattva Samantabadhra, its presence would have introduced an element of the Buddhist faith into the furnishings of the tomb which were otherwise predominantly of a non-religious nature.

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