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Elephant throne (howdah)
Place of Origin: India, Chhattisgarh state, former princely state of Surguja
Date: approx. 1870-1920
Object Name: Furniture
Materials: Partially gilded and painted silver over wood, with velvet and wicker
Dimensions: H. 70 in x W. 49 1/4 in x D. 62 3/4 in, H. 177.8 cm x W. 125 cm x D. 159.4 cm (as displayed with parasol)
Credit Line: Acquisition made possible by Nancy B. Hamon in honor of Johnson S. Bogart
Department: South Asian Art
Collection: Decorative Arts
Object Number: 2001.12.a-.c
On Display: Yes
Location: Gallery 5

Description

Label: Elephants were closely associated with rulership in South Asia and bore many kings through battles, hunts, and ceremonial processions. That this elephant throne, or howdah, was used by royalty is indicated by its covering of embossed and gilded sheets of silver. Some decorative motifs on the throne—such as the coat of arms on its front and the flower-filled urns on its sides—document the artistic exchange between Europe and South Asia during the colonial period. The lions on the front and sides of the throne continue a South Asian tradition of associating the regal animal with gods, religious figures, and rulers. Other culturally specific features include the peacocks, traditional South Asian emblems of royalty and divinity, in the side panel medallions. Furnishings of this type were probably produced using pattern books as guides. This elephant throne came with an elaborate burgundy velvet parasol decorated with gold thread. Part of the rod for the parasol can be seen behind the front seat.

More Information

Exhibition History: "Elephants on Parade", 2/18/2006 - 8/6/2006, Tateuchi Gallery

"Maharaja: The Splendor of India's Royal Courts", 10/21/2011-4/8/2012

"Gorgeous", Asian Art Museum, 6/20/2014 - 9/14/2014
Additional Label:

Imagine hoisting this silver seat atop an elephant's back, and an Indian royal climbing into it to be carried through a battle. It is hard to think of a more "over-the-top" combination. (Curators' remarks tell us that it may have been used for hunts and ceremonial processions as well.) The seat elevates its sitter above everyday folks as a symbol of social status. Its embossed and gilded decorative motifs covering sheets of silver signify the owner's wealth. These messages come through loud and clear. But what do you think? Is this ornate ride a flashy case of "more is more" or does it leave you thinking that good taste can't be bought?

- AH ("Gorgeous" exhibition)

"Less is a bore."
Or so said the American architect and theorist Robert Venturi. We look at a lavishly ornamented silver elephant seat and can't help taking it as a piece of high camp: garish, middle-brow, essentially laughable. What do the lion and buffalo have to do with the peacock-panther? Why the solemn coat of arms amid the riotous Indian foliage? What is THE POINT? But we live in chaos, with every kind of thing jostling every other. Maybe occasionally things that enter our field of vision make some sort of sense together, but usually they don't. The commotion, the confusion, the jumpin' indeterminacy are the point.

- FMcG ("Gorgeous" exhibition)


Label: Elephants were closely associated with rulership in South Asia and bore many kings through battles, hunts, and ceremonial processions. That this elephant throne, or howdah, was used by royalty is indicated by its covering of embossed and gilded sheets of silver. Some decorative motifs on the throne—such as the coat of arms on its front and the flower-filled urns on its sides—document the artistic exchange between Europe and South Asia during the colonial period. The lions on the front and sides of the throne continue a South Asian tradition of associating the regal animal with gods, religious figures, and rulers. Other culturally specific features include the peacocks, traditional South Asian emblems of royalty and divinity, in the side panel medallions. Furnishings of this type were probably produced using pattern books as guides. This elephant throne came with an elaborate burgundy velvet parasol decorated with gold thread. Part of the rod for the parasol can be seen behind the front seat.
Exhibition History: "Elephants on Parade", 2/18/2006 - 8/6/2006, Tateuchi Gallery

"Maharaja: The Splendor of India's Royal Courts", 10/21/2011-4/8/2012

"Gorgeous", Asian Art Museum, 6/20/2014 - 9/14/2014
Expanded Label:

Imagine hoisting this silver seat atop an elephant's back, and an Indian royal climbing into it to be carried through a battle. It is hard to think of a more "over-the-top" combination. (Curators' remarks tell us that it may have been used for hunts and ceremonial processions as well.) The seat elevates its sitter above everyday folks as a symbol of social status. Its embossed and gilded decorative motifs covering sheets of silver signify the owner's wealth. These messages come through loud and clear. But what do you think? Is this ornate ride a flashy case of "more is more" or does it leave you thinking that good taste can't be bought?

- AH ("Gorgeous" exhibition)

"Less is a bore."
Or so said the American architect and theorist Robert Venturi. We look at a lavishly ornamented silver elephant seat and can't help taking it as a piece of high camp: garish, middle-brow, essentially laughable. What do the lion and buffalo have to do with the peacock-panther? Why the solemn coat of arms amid the riotous Indian foliage? What is THE POINT? But we live in chaos, with every kind of thing jostling every other. Maybe occasionally things that enter our field of vision make some sort of sense together, but usually they don't. The commotion, the confusion, the jumpin' indeterminacy are the point.

- FMcG ("Gorgeous" exhibition)


Resources:

Video: Royal Rides: The Asian Art Museum's Silver Howdah and its Virgina Relation (Part 1 of 2: http://youtu.be/aBregDSW1xM
Video: Royal Rides: The Asian Art Museum's Silver Howdah and its Virgina Relation (Part 2 of 2): http://youtu.be/m3shFETYelc

John Henry Rice of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts discusses the silver howdah in the Asian Art Museum's collection. A lecture presented by the Society for Asian Art on April 3, 2015.