Dish with Recumbent Elephant Surrounded by Clouds

Date: 15th–16th century

Culture: Vietnam

Medium: Stoneware with underglaze cobalt-blue decoration

Dimensions: Diam. 14 1/4 in. (36.2 cm)

Classification: Ceramics

Credit Line: Purchase, Friends of Asian Art Gifts, 1998

Accession Number: 1998.213


This exceptional dish, with its depiction of a kneeling elephant surrounded by abstract cloud formations, must be included among the dozen or two finest known early Vietnamese blue-and-white porcelain dishes and is therefore a major addition to the Museum's small but choice collection of these wares. The refined and sophisticated drawing of the charming and delightful elephant and the excellent control of the underglaze cobalt blue set it apart from most of the known corpus of important fifteenth- and sixteenth-century porcelains. The technique of manufacture, shape of the dish, and general composition of design are clearly based on blue-and-white prototypes of the early Ming dynasty (1368–1644), but the whimsical elephant and the particulars of the subsidiary design are uniquely the product of Vietnamese artistic sensibilities. The salty taste of the surface of the dish suggests it was recovered from a shipwreck.