The first known inventoried models of Kakiemon elephants to arrive in Europe are at the magnificent Elizabethan mansion Burghley House, Lincolnshire. There were "2 large Elephants" standing with raised trunks on the bedchamber chimney-piece of John Cecil, Fifth Earl of Exeter, listed by the Earl's secretary Culpepper Tanner in 1688.[see 1 below] These may have come to the house at the time of the Earl's prestigious marriage to Anne Cavendish, daughter of the Third Earl of Devonshire
A similar example to those at Burghley House is in the Collection formed by Augustus The Strong, Elector of Saxony [see 2 below]
Of the model in this lot there are only two examples known; the first enamelled black in the Victoria and Albert Museum [see 3 below], the other similar to the above in the British Museum [see 4 below].
This example may have been supplied to an European collection, through "a china shop" such as that of Mrs. Chenevix's china shop near Charing Cross, in the 18th Century.
It is thought that the first real elephant was seen in Japan in 1408, when there is a very brief mention of a "black elephant" brought over from the namban (southern barbarian) countries to the court of the Emperor Go-Komatsu, namban at that date referring to the countries of South East Asia. This story is lent credence both by Japan's rapidly increasing foreign trade in the early fifteenth century and by the mention of the colour black, which would have differentiated the real elephant from the white elephant of Buddhist iconography, associated with the bodhisattva Fugen. As far as is known, the next elephants were a pair, male and female, brought over by Chinese merchants more than three cneturies later in 1729 and taken first to Kyoto and then to Edo. According to an account written in the following year these elephants, one of which died after a few days and the other survived until 1742, were five shaku seven sun (1.7 metres) in height, drank more than two to (36 litres) of water at a go, and would kneel down to allow people to clim on their backs. It was said that when they reached one hundred years old they would turn white, another echo of the Buddhist elephant [see 5 below]. Incidentally, the fact that these famous "Kyoko elephants" came over in 1729 suggests that they did not, as is often claimed, inspire Ogawa Haritsu's lacquers decorated with elephants bearing tribute on their backs, several of which are dated 1721. Haritsu took his design from late Ming Dynasty albums of designs for ink-cakes [see 6 below], and it is reasonable to guess that the Arita potters too, might have got their ideas about elephants from a Chinese exemplar of some kind, for example one of the sources used by the Osaka doctor Terajima Ryoan in his pioneering encyclopedia published in 1716. Terajima's simple woodcut illustration of an elephant is strikingly similar to some of the Arita animals [see 7 below].
1. Porcelain for Palaces, The Fashion for Japan in Europe, 1650-1750, John Ayers, Oliver Impey, J.V.G. Mallet, pl. no. 160
The Burghley Porcelains, Japan Society, New York 1980
2. Early Japanese Porcelain, Dresdener Porzellansammlung, F. Reichel, no. 83
3. Porcelain for Palaces, The Fashion for Japan in Europe, 1650-1750, John Ayers, Oliver Impey, J.V.G Mallet, pl. no. 161
4. Japanese Porcelain, Jenyns Soame, London 1965, pl. no. 62a
5. Zo [The elephant], Sunamoto Etsujiro, Tokyo 1932, 1297ff
6. Ritsuo saiku [Inlaid lacquerwork by Ritsuo], Kyoto National Museum, Kyoto 1992, cat nos. 10-13
7. Wakan sansai zue [Illustrated Japanese-Chinese encyclopedia of the three realms], Terajima Ryoan, Tokyo 1970 (original edition Osaka 1716), 439