February 29-August 30, 2020

In Sanskrit poetry, people and elephants live harmoniously in a shared natural world, where elephants enhance the aesthetic pleasure of the landscape by augmenting almost all of the human senses. In fact, throughout the history of South Asia, elephants were valued profoundly for their might and majesty, embodying royal power and inspiring comparisons to kings and deities. In the earthly realm, elephants intimidated the enemy on the battlefield, terrified the condemned as executioners, and entertained courtiers in staged fights with each other. Revered as the elephant-headed god Ganesh or admired as the god Indra’s elegant white mount, elephants were also associated with rain and compared to kings and beautiful women. They simultaneously possessed a magnificent grandeur and quiet dignity to which all humans could aspire.


Inspired by this inherent reverence for the elephant, an appreciation rooted in India’s rich literary traditions and folklore, artists at the courts of Muslim and Hindu rulers produced splendid paintings and studies of elephants, many of which were admired in albums, and others conceived as independent compositions or as designs for transfer to other media. With the exception of a portrait of an African elephant, this selection of works from the Edwin Binney 3rd Collection features paintings and drawings of Asian elephants completed in India between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. Representing a range of regional styles, skill, and subject matter, they share a cultural affinity and empathy for the massive yet graceful, powerful but noble elephant.


Featured: Nuruddin, Maharana Jagat Singh II riding the elephant Bhramargaj, India, Rajasthan, Mewar, ca. 1750, Edwin Binney 3rd Collection, 1990.628.



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