Turquoise-glazed Pottery Model of an Elephant - LO.655
Origin: Iran
Circa: 1100 AD to 1200 AD
Dimensions: 15.25" (38.7cm) high
Collection: Islamic art
Style: Seljuq
Medium: Fritware

Turquoise-glazed fritware sculpture depicting a sturdy elephant with a canopied platform (howdah), with two musicians confronting each other on either side of a low table. The elephant walking slowly forwards with trunk trailing near the ground, a mahout (elephant driver) on his neck, large circular protective shields on the ears, the howdah surmounted by an elaborate openwork pavillion rising from the four corners and arching to a central point.

Coloured monochrome alkaline glaze was combined for the first time with a composite fritware only during the Seljuq period. Because of the new biscuit material, potters were thus able to experiment further on shape and decoration, creating a large repertoire of objects including jugs, incense burners, lamps, candlesticks, trays and tiles, but also, more interestingly, a sculptural typology which scholars identify as 'models', although their real purpose is yet to be ascertained, such as in the case of this beautiful elephant.

In fact, the elephant is rare among the glazed pottery figurines made in Iran during the 12th and 13th centuries. Only five published examples are known. The one in the National Museum of Teheran is very close to ours, though it is coated with a cobalt blue glaze.

The date for this alkaline glazed fritware could be assigned to the 12th century, although glazed fritware was definitely produced even after the Mongol invasion in AD 1220.

For a discussion on monochrome alkaline glazed fritware models see G.Fehervari, Ceramics of The Islamic World, 2000: pp.98-107.