‘Imaginary Elephants’: the sculptures created by a 17th-century artist who had never seen an elephant.

We are in Japan. The Tōshōgu Shrine complex of Nikkō is popular for its architectural and sculptural beauty, including the Three Wise Monkeys and the “Sleeping Cat”. Another among its hundreds of sculptures is commonly referred to as “Sōzō-no-Zō”, literally the “Imaginary Elephants.” The sculpture is located on the gable of the Kamijinko (Upper Sacred Storehouse or God’s Storehouse), where a pair of strange-looking animals grin with crescent-shaped eyes. The sculpture on the left is green and white, while the other is black and both are complete with golden tusks.…

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