A very fine pair of Louis XV gilt bronze mounted Ming Dynasty turquoise porcelain elephants with Qing Dynasty turquoise porcelain Buddhas ornamented with Louis XV porcelain flowers attributed to Vincennes, each with an elephant, one turning its head to the left and the other to the right, with radiating stylized folds across its body continuing down the head and trunk, each mounted with a plain saddle-cloth and a gilt bronze tassel hung caparison upon which is placed a howdah with drapery above supported on four outward facing poles around which are entwined fine gilt stems issuing delicate polychrome painted white porcelain flowers attributed to the Vincennes Factory, inside the howdah is seated a small Buddha, each elephant standing foursquare on a gilt bronze rectangular base with canted corners, the top to simulate a rocky surface, the sides and angled corners mounted with palmettes
The porcelain elephants: China, early seventeenth century, late Ming Dynasty.
The porcelain Buddhas: China, mid eighteenth century, Qing Dynasty.
The gilt bronzes: Paris, mid eighteenth century. The porcelain flowers: Vincennes, mid eighteenth century.
Height 43 cm, length 27 cm. each.
These striking figurines combine the arts of both China and France. The elephants date to the early seventeenth century and thus belong to the late Ming period. The Ming Dynasty spanned three centuries from 1368-1644, during which some of the greatest developments were made in the production of Chinese porcelain. Potters were unlikely to have seen an elephant and thus probably based their models of Buddhist paintings or sculptures of elephants which were often depicted with a mass of wrinkles on their forehead, quarters and legs. The present works feature a wonderful turquoise glaze, also known as peacock-green or peacock-blue, which derived its colour from a copper oxide in an alkaline glaze mix. Turquoise glazes appeared intermittently in Chinese ceramics from as early as the Yuan period and were still popular during the Qing Dynasty. This was when the small Buddhas were created. They date from the mid eighteenth century and thus belong to the Qianlong period (1736-1795) during which potters catered for both the Chinese as well as the ever increasing export market.
The vogue in France for mounting Chinese export porcelain goes back to the Renaissance. During the eighteenth century the fashion enjoyed a grand revival largely due to intervention of the Parisian marchands-merciers, of which Lazare Duvaux was at the forefront. He, like other marchands-merciers was responsible for their overall design, creation and then promotion and sale to the most affluent sectors of society, not least the royal court. After purchasing the porcelain directly from one of the East Indies companies and the flowers more locally from Vincennes, Duvaux or another marchand-mercier would then have commissioned one of the Parisian bronziers to create appropriate mounts and an artisan for their final assembly.
In addition to figurines many other types of luxury pieces were created in Paris using gilt bronze mounted Chinese porcelain. Among such decorative items were wall-lights, candelabra, clock cases, vases, bowls and even inkwells. Chinese porcelain has always been prized in the West, as too were exotic animals such as elephants especially during the reign of Louis XV. Some were copied by the Meissen factory or were created in gilt bronze and made into clock cases by the Parisian bronziers Jean-Joseph de St. Germain and Jacques Caffiéri. Elephants were not only fashionable because they were exotic but were associated with the Orient, an area that held particular sway as part of Chinoiserie taste and Rococo design.
The works are further augmented with beautiful soft paste porcelain flowers, which due to their quality and style were almost certainly made by Vincennes. In particular they compare with those adorning a mid eighteenth century French gilt bronze mounted mantle clock and also wall lights in the Waddesdon Collection (illus respectively in Geoffrey de Bellaigue, "The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor", 1974, vol. I, p. 99 and vol. II, p. 795-7).