An Annotated & Illustrated Collection of Worldwide Links to Mythologies,
Fairy Tales & Folklore, Sacred Arts & Sacred Traditions
by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.

[Main page on Lunar New Year / Year of the Ox; also General Data on Lunar New Year]

3 January 2010: Originally created as an Attachment to the above
LUNAR NEW YEAR of the Yin Earth OX / 26 January 2009- 13 February 2010,
this is now a page in its own right, double-listed under "Animal Guides" and "Seasonal."

The Ox in Art, Literature
& Culture,
East & West


25 January 2009
Author's Note:

I spent many hours yesterday looking at hundreds of google images in searching for material on "The Ox in Art." Much is quite wonderful and deserves to be gathered together in one convenient place. Since there is far too much to include on my main Lunar New Year page, I have created this new page for it.......

Lao-Tse, author of the Tao Te Ching,  Riding an Ox
The painting dates from the mid 1500s, by Zhang Lu (approx. 1490–1563), China, Ming dynasty (1368-1644), hanging scroll, ink on paper, National Palace Museum, Taipei.
Lao-Tse is said to have been traveling in the company of an ox and a servant boy
when he dictated his Tao Te Ching.
[Added 1/26/09]: This is "Taoism and the Arts of China" by Thomas Christensen. It is a scholarly article from 2001, well illustrated and rich with insight. (It should be noted that his spellings differ from what we are used to: thus, Lao-Tse is Laozi and Tao Te Ching is Daode jing.)
...This article was written for Treasures, the member's magazine of the Asian Art Museum, where the exhibition Taoism and the Arts of China, organized by the Art Institute of Chicago, was presented from February 21 through May 13, 2001....
The founder of Taoism, Lao-Tse, was traveling in the company of an ox when he wrote his book. This was so significant to the Chinese that the sage was painted riding upon that ox. Many think of the ox as a beast of burden, doomed to a life of endless toil, hitched to a plow, a millstone, a cart. The ox, in other words, is seen as a thing, not a person. It is refreshing, therefore, to think of an ox carrying a sage, providing that sage with the secure leisure in which to develop a yin philosophy at a time when the too-heavy yang philosophy of Confucius prevailed:
...What accounts for the extraordinary influence of this terse classic of 5000 words (about the length of this article)? By promoting ideals of nonconformity, individualism, tranquillity, acceptance, relativity, transcendence, and the primacy of the natural world, Taoism provided a counterpoint and a corrective to Confucianism, with its emphasis on social responsibility and hierarchies of authority....

[See below]
Moving from Taoism to Buddhism, the ox also plays a major philosophical role in the famous Zen "Ox-herding" series of ten paintings. From Peace-Wikia comes the full series, accompanied by brilliant commentary from Zen, by Martine Batchelor.
[More Ox-Herding sources, for those who wish to explore further:]
This gorgeous website from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art tells the story of the establishment of a major shrine in Japan. An ox unwittingly was chosen by a powerful spirit to make the wishes of that spirit more clearly known. What happened to the usually sure-footed ox was enough to convince the powers-that-be that it would be wise to obey the spirit's wishes. This could perhaps be seen as another indication of how sensitive the ox is to other-worldly forces.
Belt buckle, Xiongnu type, 3rd–2nd century B.C.North China
Gilt bronze; H. 2 1/4 in. (5.7 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1918 (18.33.1)
This is another superb piece from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Excerpts from the site:
This small ornament is one of a pair of belt buckles designed as mirror images. Enclosed in a braided frame, the ox stands with its lowered head in three-quarter view and its tail tucked between its hind legs. Numerous objects of this type have been found in both northern China and Inner Mongolia. They were made in China for the seminomadic people known as the Xiongnu, who wore them on belts buckled over long tunics as decoration and as a mark of status....

Although references to the Xiongnu are common in early Chinese histories, their origins remain unclear. During the third century B.C., this confederacy of mixed ethnic and linguistic stock controlled a vast Central Asian territory that extended west as far as the Caucasus. Relations between the Han Chinese and these powerful northern neighbors were complicated and included military conflict, tribute payments of grain and silk, official exchanges of other goods, and trade both sanctioned and unsanctioned.

Date: Early Tang Dynasty (c. 630 CE)
Medium: Painted pottery
Subject: Recumbent Ox
Size: c. 9 ¾” L
This is a fabulous collection of ancient Chinese art from many periods, including seven pieces featuring the ox. About the "Recumbent Ox" above:
A finely detailed and artistically superior Chinese recumbent ox in gray pottery. Extensive attention has been paid to the details on this piece, such as the finely cut neck, the proportions and the unusual position of the legs.  This impressive, yet peaceful statue is in excellent condition.

This is from a 2003 "Photo Gallery" from a medical student named Mark (probably a doctor by now) who was doing volunteer work in a Cambodian hospital. He shot this at Angkor Wat. Here is his label for this work:
2.23.03 Bass relief of water buffalo and elephant marching with army.
I wish there were more data about the water buffalo's role -- he's tied to a tree, yet the soldiers seem to be urging him forward. Clearly, he isn't expected to uproot the tree -- the elephant behind him would be able to do that more efficiently. It's a puzzling yet powerful work of art.

Detail on a small fan:
Boy Leading an Ox Along the Farm Path
Southern Sung dynasty

From the Minneapolis Institute of Arts comes this detail from a small fan (which itself is only about 9"x 9"). The site allows you to click on the fan for an enlargement, which lets you see how really, really tiny this detail is in the larger context. There is also a brief but fine interview with Robert Jacobsen, their Curator of Asian Art. Here are two excerpts:
...This is really a painting of harmonious coexistence of humankind and animal-kind in nature....

...[It] really is about the rhythms of nature and how the farmer is part of that rhythm. Both the Buddhists and Taoists would say that we, as humans, are not meant to fully understand nature, but to do our best to live harmoniously with these forces of nature -- the weather patterns, the great rocks of the mountains, and the water that is essential to life here....

An Asian ox-mill to generate electricity
Posted (unreferenced) on Oil Drum by Ron Broberg, November 25, 2008
What moves me here is the ox's quality of patience and gentle beauty. Animals get very bored, just as people do, yet the ox just keeps walking round and round, endlessly. I hope this one is well-treated by his owners.
This is a brief piece on a January 2009 exhibit in the Philippines, "The steadfast Ox celebrated in art." Here is the opening statement:
In commemoration of the incoming Year of the Ox in the Chinese calendar, Galerie Joaquin main and Galerie Joaquin Podium present a show dedicated to paying homage to the world’s most popular beast of burden: The ox or the water buffalo throughout Asia, the carabao in the Philippine context....
One piece of intriguing metal sculpture accompanies the article:
...Sculptor Glenn Cagandahan who recently designed the trophies for the National Book Development Board sees the water buffalo as an elegant figure that is very challenging for an artist to interpret. He wanted to present the animal in an elegant, folksy but highly contemporary style....

Prehistoric Long-horned European Wild Ox
From Heinrich Harder's 1916 series, Tiere der Urwelt (Animals of the Prehistoric World)
This is from a site on the "Paleo art" of Heinrich Harder (1858-1935). The German-born Harder specialized in painting prehistoric animals and later became an art professor at the Berlin University. The main page at: displays a huge number of his prehistoric paintings. Unfortunately, no details are provided about the animals themselves.

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) Ox,
Albertina Museum, Vienna
This Rubens work comes from a 2002 exhibit, "Old Master Drawings" from the Albertina in Vienna. The actual exhibit, however, was held in Sydney, Australia, while "extensive restoration" was taking place at the Albertina. Unfortunately, no data is provided on Ruben's "Ox."

The Ox Cart
Vincent Van Gogh
Portland Art Museum in Oregon
(See directly below)
From a brief blog by LaValle Linn comes a haunting page with three of Van Gogh's paintings of oxen pulling a cart.  There is a sadness in the paintings that seems to echo the life of these creatures.  Here's an excerpt:
...Van Gogh completed at least two other works involving oxen, one oil and one drawing. Cart with Red and White Ox (below) also painted in 1884 is at the Kroller-Muller Museum in the Netherlands. The ox stands alone in the Dutch version, not surrounded by crows. Perhaps that's because the cart is empty, the manure already taken to the fields....
Continuing with more detailed data on the above painting is "Gift Brings Van Gogh's 'Ox-Cart' to Oregon Museum" by Susan Stamberg. Excerpts:
...The painting has been obscure pretty much since 1884, when it was created. There's not a sunflower in sight. Van Gogh's "The Ox-Cart" is dark as coffee grounds.

Curator Bruce Guenther describes the painting as "brown and black and grey and green ... and it's filled with an atmosphere."

The painting was done in Nuenen, a Dutch village near the Belgian border. Van Gogh made it before he went to Arles and other towns in southern France and discovered sunshine. In Holland, he painted poor peasants, in an eternity of moody brown shadow. In this case, a beast of burden — the scrawny ox — is hauling a rickety cart, probably full of dung....

"A West Highland Ox"
This is The Project Gutenberg free online e-Book of Cattle and Their Diseases, by Dr. Robert Jennings, V.S., published in Philadelphia, 1864. At the end of the Table of Contents (scroll down about 14 clicks from the top of the page) is a listing of a large number of black and white drawings of oxen, cows calves, and bulls. Here is the quaint opening to this 19th century book:
It is quite certain that the ox has been domesticated and in the service of man from a very remote period. We are informed in the fourth chapter of Genesis, that cattle were kept by the early descendants of Adam; Jubal, the son of Lamech—who was probably born during the lifetime of Adam—being styled the father of such as have cattle. The ox having been preserved by Noah from the flood of waters, the original breed of our present cattle must have been in the neighborhood of Mount Ararat. From thence, dispersing over the face of the globe—altering by climate, by food, and[14] by cultivation—originated the various breeds of modern ages.

That the value of the ox tribe has been in all ages and climates highly appreciated, we have ample evidence. The natives of Egypt, India, and Hindostan, seem alike to have placed the cow amongst their deities; and, judging by her usefulness to all classes, no animal could perhaps have been selected whose value to mankind is greater. The traditions, indeed, of every Celtic nation enroll the cow among the earliest productions, and represent it as a kind of divinity....

Further on, in section 109, comes information on feeding one's cattle. Knowing how today's cattle are shot full of noxious antibiotics and fed a corn-based diet (have you ever seen any cow grazing in a cornfield?), this piece caught my eye:
...In winter, the best food for cows in milk will be good sweet meadow hay, a part of which should be cut and moistened with water—as all inferior hay or straw should be—with an addition of root-crops, such as turnips, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, mangold-wurtzel, with shorts, oil-cake, Indian meal, or bean meal.

It is the opinion of most successful dairymen that the feeding of moist food cannot be too highly recommended for cows in milk, especially to those who desire to obtain the largest quantity. Hay cut and thoroughly moistened becomes more succulent and nutritive, and partakes more of the nature of green grass....

Would that today's agribusiness managers were taught such common sense.

"Mula's Ox"
 Leonora Carrington (b. England, 1917)
(See larger version on site directly below)

This little page on Mexico Culture & Arts features three works by Leonora Carrington, including "Mula's Ox" (see above).  About the artist:
The legendary English born surrealist painter is internationally recognized for her unique imagery. However, this nonagenarian has yet to be recognized for her profound influence on the younger generations of Mexican artists. The term "dream like ambience," which is often employed to describe contemporary Mexican art, is in direct reference to Leonora's influence.
This is "To the Unknown Ox," an austere bronze by Greek sculptor,  Apostolos Yayannos. When I saw it yesterday, it took my breath away. It broke my heart.


General Data on Lunar New Year

Pigs in History, Religion, Culture, & Art:
[This is one of my new January 2007 pages with general information
but also great material on ancient China's pigs and pig-dragons.]

 2009-2010 Year of the Earth Ox is now at: Lunar Archives: EarthOx
 2008-2009 Year of the Earth Rat is now at: Lunar Archives: EarthRat
 2007-2008 Year of the Fire Pig is now at: Lunar Archives: FirePig
 2006-2007 Year of the Yang Fire Dog is now at: Lunar Archives: FireDog
 2005-2006 Year of the Wood Rooster is now at: Lunar Archives: Wood Rooster
 2004-2005 Year of the Wood Monkey is now at: Lunar Archives: Wood Monkey
 2003-2004 Year of the Water Goat is now at: Lunar Archives: Water Goat
2002-2003 Year of the Water Horse is now at: Lunar Archives: Water Horse
 2001-2002 Year of the Metal Snake page is now at: Lunar Archives: Metal Snake
 2000-2001 Year of the Metal Dragon page is now at:Lunar Archives: Metal Dragon

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& e-mail address are on my Home Page.

© 2009-2010 Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
All rights reserved except to the art on this page.

This page designed, created, and launched (c. 10pm) 25 January 2009.

3 January, 2010, 2am-4am: I forgot I hadn't finished this page last year!  So I did minimal annotations for the 6 ungrokked links (Leonora Carrington; exhibit in Philippines; "Recumbent Ox"; Ruben's "Ox"; Harder's prehistoric Ox; and Van Gogh).

Later, same day, 4pm: I've decided that anything of substance on my Lunar New Year pages concerning a given animal's non-New Year role in Art, Literature, & Culture, East or West, needs to be shifted to its own page and double-listed under "Common Themes: Animal Guides" as well as "Seasonal." Thus, I just took the Taoism and Zen Ox-Herding material from the main 2009 Year of Ox page and shifted them to the beginning of this page instead.  I'll do the same for the upcoming 2010-2011 Year of the Tiger and, slowly, as each animal comes up again, create these rich "spin-off" pages, deleting the material from the original matrix of Lunar New Years, but linking them to each New Year as I go.

Additional Art Sources:
A good, searchable source of Chinese art on various themes.