Kakiemon elephants

From Japan, Edo period, late 17th century AD

These splendid elephants are made from porcelain with a milky-white glaze called nigoshide, decorated with brilliant overglaze enamels in yellow, red, green and blue -- in the so-called ‘Kakiemon’ style.

Many such models of animals, such as dogs, cats, deer, boars and horses, were made as ornaments for European mantelpieces.

Real elephants would not have been seen in Japan at this time, and these unusual examples were likely ordered specially by merchants of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) for export.

Porcelain making began in Japan relatively late, in the 1610s. For several decades around the fall of the Ming dynasty in 1644, production in China was curtailed, giving an opportunity for Japanese makers temporarily to take over the trade.

From about 1660 potters near Arita in Kyushu began Kakiemon-style decoration in overglaze coloured enamels and these elephants date from the period 1660-90.



The Japanese islands have been inhabited for more than 30,000 years.

Japan world culture

Edo period

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Object details

Height: 35.5 cm
Width: 44 cm
Depth: 14.5 cm


Asia JA 1980.3-25.1-2

Rooms 92-94: Japan


    Garner Collection


    L. Smith, V. Harris and T. Clark, Japanese art: masterpieces in the British Museum (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)

    See this object in our Collection database online

    Further reading

    O. Impey, Japanese Export Porcelain (Amsterdam, 2002)

    O. Impey, ‘Japanese Export Art of the Edo Period and its Influence on European art’, Modern Asian Studies, 18 (1984), 685–697