In the mid-18th century, fantasy became fashionable in rocaille style and, under its influence, exotic themes and animals began to emerge in the decorative arts. Elephants, rhinoceros, leopards, lions and camels were used either for purely decorative purposes, to hold small boxes or carry clock dials on their backs.
At the Meissen factory in Saxony, the artists Johann-Joachim Kaendler and Peter Reinicke drew inspiration from Chinese art and made maquettes for moulds from which such objects were formed. This placid elephant, held at the Musée Cognacq-Jay, carries a bowl of potpourri in the shape of a palanquin. Like most of the groups based on J-J Kaendler's maquettes, it was mounted in Paris and stands on a rocaille-style base beneath a gilt-bronze tree with porcelain flowers. The openwork on the mount for the bowl allowed the fragrance to permeate through the air.