As the first European factory to develop a formula for Chinese hard-paste porcelain, the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory near Dresden earned a reputation for exquisitely modeled and delicately painted sculpture. This was due in great part to the imaginative and complex figural designs of modeler Johann Joachim Kändler, court sculptor to Frederick-Augustus I of Saxony (Augustus the Strong). Every detail of the Sultan Riding an Elephant is rendered with impeccable precision. The dignified demeanor of the sultan—from the red peak of his jeweled turban to the turned-up toe of his yellow shoes—projects a majesty beyond the small scale of the work. The energetic form of his driver, perched on the head of the compliant elephant, enlivens the ensemble. The gilded details and the Parisian-made mid-18th century ormolu (gilded bronze) scroll-work base add richness to a subject that would appeal as much for its whimsy as its evocation of the exotic and glamorous East.
From Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 89 (2015)
Artist after a model by Johann Joachim Kändler, German, 1706-1775
Artist after a model by Peter Reinicke, German, 1715-1768
Manufacturer Meissen Porcelain Manufactory, German, founded 1710
  • Sultan Riding an Elephant
Date ca. 1749
Medium hard-paste porcelain, vitreous enamel, gold; bronze, gold
Dimensions Overall: 15 3/8 × 14 1/2 × 8 7/8 inches (39.1 × 36.8 × 22.5 cm)
Credit Line Museum Purchase, Robert H. Tannahill Foundation Fund, Gilbert B.and Lila Silverman, and the Visiting Committee for European Sculputure and Decorative Arts
Accession Number 2004.11
Department European Sculpture and Dec Arts
On View Fashionable Living: S330.7, Level 3 (see map)
Marks Marks, in underglaze blue, under elephant's belly: [crossed swords]
1990, M. Raymond Esq. (Belchamp Hall, Suffolk, England);
July 4, 1996, sold by (Christie's, London, England) lot 247 [for 46,000 GBP (?)]
(By 2003, Angela Gräfin von Wallwitz, Munich, Germany);
2004-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
Gräfin von Wallwitz, A., ed. Meissen Porcelain for Gentlemen. Munich, 2005, St. 416, p. 172; pp. 114-115 (ill.).

Darr, Alan. P. and Brian Gallagher. "Recent acquisitions (2000-2006) of European sculpture and decorative arts at The Detroit Institute of Arts." The Burlington Magazine 149, no. 1251 (June 2007): p. 451, pl. VII (ill.).

You, Yao-Fen. “From Novelty to Necessity: The Europeanization of Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate.” In Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate: Consuming the World, ed. Yao-Fen You, Mimi Hellman, and Hope Saska. Exh. cat., Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit, 2016, p. 27 (ill.); 29; 131, cat. 16.

Bulletin of the DIA: Notable Acquisitions, 2000–2015 89, no. 1/4 (2015): p. 28 (ill.).