This year’s Chinese New Year fell on February 12. It is the Year of the Ox according to the Chinese zodiac. Several museums in China are hosting special exhibitions on ox-related themes to celebrate this festive occasion.
Among all the animals, the ox is one of the closest with humans, and it is one of the earliest domesticated animals. As the most spiritual of all livestock in ancient times, oxen were the most faithful and reliable source of labor in agricultural society. Even today, images of oxen are still widely found in all aspects of life, including clothing, food, housing and transportation. It can be said that oxen have accompanied the progress of human civilization and left their images in the material cultural remains of various historical periods. There are a large number of ox-related allusions and cultural interpretations in traditional Chinese culture. The idyllic poetry and charm that emerged from agricultural society gave birth to rich artistic creations related to oxen, which achieved a delicate balance between elegance and vulgarity. (Source: National Museum of China)
Below are several paintings on the ox or water buffalo (considered the same category of animal as an ox) from different periods in Chinese history. Which one is your favorite?
Han Huang (723–787), Five Bulls
Handscroll, Ink and color on paper, 20.8 x 139.8 cm, Palace Museum, Beijing
Li Tang (1049–1130), Herdboy with Water Buffalo and Its Baby
Hanging scroll, Ink and light color on silk, 46.4 x 62.5 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei
Ren Xiong (1823–1857), Ning Qi Feeding the Oxen
Album leaf, Ink and color on paper, 27.2 x 34.3 cm, Shanghai Museum
Li Keran (1907–1989), Return from Oxherding
Hanging scroll, Ink and color on paper, 69 x 46 cm
Wu Guanzhong (1919–2010), Twin Water Buffalo
Album leaf, Ink and color on paper, 46 x 48 cm