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Elephants and drivers fighting for sport

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Elephants and drivers fighting for sport

Creation date: 1st quarter 17th century
Creation place: India

Other Information

Type: Watercolor Painting
Medium and Support: Ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper, mounted on an album page
Credit Line: Edwin Binney 3rd Collection
Accession Number: 1990.439
State/Province: Karnataka
Dimensions: 7 15/32 in. x 10 7/16 in. (19 cm x 26.5 cm)


A. C. Ardeshir, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India ( - ca. 1945)

Sotheby's, London, England (March 26, 1973 - March 26, 1973)

Langford, London, England (March 26, 1973 - March 26, 1973)

Edwin Binney 3rd, San Diego, California (March 26, 1973 - August 27, 1990)

San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, California (August 27, 1990 - )

Label Copy

February 2020
Elephant in the Room
(Ladan Akbarnia)
The bells, ornaments, and ribbons on these fighting elephants, the absence of blood, and the playful manner in which the voluminous creatures curl their trunks around their human opponents in this drawing all suggest that the combat is a courtly spectacle rather than an actual battle, although such sport could often end in tragedy. Using the nim qalam (Persian “half-pen”), or lightly colored, drawing technique, the artist used ink to convey texture on the figures’ skin and hair, adding in pale or monochrome washes, and reserving bright colors and gold for embellishments like ribbons, tassels, and bells. Introduced to Mughal India from Iran in the late sixteenth to early seventeenth century, the technique was also adopted by artists in the Deccan.  

Goading elephants into fighting with each other was a sport much relished by the rulers of sixteenth and seventeenth century India. Two elephants thus locked into fierce combat was also a favorite decorative motif in architecture, textile design, and painting. Judging from the jewelry and bells on this pair, they must be imperial beasts. The artist, does not reveal whether this encounter is battle or sport. The huge animals strain at each other, wrapping their prehensile trunks around each other's mahout -- a truly hair raising experience!

October 2005
Doamins of Wonder
Images of elephant combat were appreciated by Deccani, Rajput, and Mughal rulers alike, but many lack the sense of rhythm captured in this Deccani painting. Lyrical lines articulate the subtle swing of the colored streamers and golden bells-details which suggest that these magnificent animals belonged to royal stables. With almost playful expressions, each elephant curls a trunk snugly around the other's rider in preparation to hurl him off.
Last Updated: 4/4/2022


This object was included in the following exhibitions:

Elephant in the Room: South Asian Paintings from the San Diego Museum of Art , 00/00/00 - 00/00/00

Elephant in the Room: South Asian Paintings from the San Diego Museum of Art The San Diego Museum of Art , 00/00/00 - 00/00/00

The Mughal and Deccani Schools: Indian Miniature Painting from the Collection of Edwin Binney, 3rd The Portland Art Association , 12/2/1973 - 3/7/1976

Indian Drawings and Painted Sketches: 16th through 19th Centuries Asia House Gallery , 12/21/1976 - 3/21/1977

Myths, Monsters, Maharajas: Introducing the Binney Collection San Diego Museum of Art , 11/23/1991 - 1/26/1992

Domains of Wonder: Selected Masterworks of Indian Painting San Diego Museum of Art , 10/22/2005 - 1/27/2008

The Elephant in the Room: Indian Paintings from the Edwin Binney 3rd Collection The San Diego Museum of Art , 2/29/2020 - 7/18/2021


This object has the following bibliographic references:

Dr. Edwin Binney, 3rd. The Mughal and Deccani Schools Portland Art Museum. Portland, Oregon, 1973
Page Number: 138, 148-149, Figure Number: 124

Mark Zebrowski. Deccani Painting Sotheby Publications. London, England, 1983
Page Number: 100-101, 121, note 68, Figure Number: 78

Catalogue of Important Mughal Miniatures, Sotheby & Co.. London, England, March 26, 1973
Page Number: 22, Lot no. 16, Figure Number: 16

Mr. Stuart Cary Welch. Indian Drawings and Painted Sketches: Asia House Gallery. New York, New York, 1976
Page Number: 72 no. 33, 73, Figure Number: 33

Brijinder Nath Goswamy and Dr. Caron Smith. Domains of Wonder: San Diego Museum of Art. San Diego, California, 2005
Page Number: 164, 165, Figure Number: 65

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