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Elephant throne (howdah), approx. 1870–1920

Elephant throne (howdah), approx. 1870–1920

Elephant throne (howdah), approx. 18701920. India; Chhattisgarh state, former princely state of Surguja. Partially gilded and painted silver over wood, with velvet and wicker. Acquisition made possible by Nancy B. Hamon in honor of Johnson S. Bogart, 2001.12.A-.C.


Elephants were closely associated with rulership in South Asia and bore many kings through battles, hunts, and ceremonial processions. That this elephant throne, or howdah, was used by royalty is indicated by its covering of embossed and gilded sheets of silver.  Some decorative motifs on the throne-such as the coat of arms on its front and the flower-filled urns on its sides-document the artistic exchange between Europe and South Asia during the colonial period. The lions on the front and sides of the throne continue a South Asian tradition of associating the regal animal with gods, religious figures, and rulers.  Other culturally specific features include the peacocks, traditional South Asian emblems of royalty and divinity, in the side panel medallions.  Furnishings of this type were probably produced using pattern books as guides. This elephant throne came with an elaborate burgundy velvet parasol decorated with gold thread. Part of the rod for the parasol can be seen behind the front seat. View a video on how How to Dress an Elephant, which shows handlers adorning an elephant with jewels and a howdah.