SHOWBIZ> Theater & Arts
Bull market for ox pictures
By Zhu Linyong (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-01-21 08:02

Bull market for ox pictures

The ox has long been a favorite subject for artists.

For instance, archaeological excavations in the 296-m-long Altamira cave in Spain have found polychrome rock paintings of herds of bison created some 18,500 years ago.

Archaeologists have also found in the Lascaux Caves of France, some of the most remarkable Paleolithic cave paintings in the world, featuring images of bulls, horses and stags. The Lascaux paintings are believed to be at least 15,000 years old.

An ox-shaped stone sculpture, 10.5 cm by 17 cm, in the National Museum of China collection, indicates Chinese during the late Shang Dynasty (c.16th century-11th century BC) also created artworks featuring oxen.

During the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC) objects such as wine vessels were made in the shape of oxen. A precious bronze zun vessel, 33.7 cm by 58.7 cm, from this period is in the Shanghai Museum collection.

Oxen can often be found in Chinese ink paintings. The most famous is probably the Five Oxen Picture by artist Han Huang (AD 723-787).

Han was a dignitary in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) who studied painting and calligraphy in his spare time. Contemporaries praised his works as "having exhausted all beauty circuitously".

In the picture, five oxen have different postures. One looks up, another looks back. One is walking, another is grazing, while the fifth is ruminating. With free and easy but commanding and somewhat deliberate strokes, the painter delineates the powerful physique of the oxen to suggest their slow, plodding movements. The meticulous rendering of the eyes seems to bring the oxen to life.

The picture is a fine example of freehand brushwork used extensively in traditional Chinese painting. With its simple and sure style, sense of scale, perspective and proportion, the picture represents the apex of traditional animal paintings in the Tang Dynasty.

Five Oxen is believed to be the only known work on flaxen paper extant paintings and was produced in the Tang Dynasty.

Another well-known ox-themed ink painting is Lao-tzu Riding an Ox by Ming Dynasty painter Zhang Lu (1490-1563).

Zhang was also well known for his paintings of birds, flowers, bamboo and animals.

In this painting, Lao-tzu, author of the Tao Te Ching, is seen riding on the back of an ox.

Bull market for ox pictures

It refers to the story of Lao-tzu wishing to leave home because of corruption but being asked to write down his ideas for the benefit of others, resulting in the Tao Te Ching.

Zhang Lu's brushwork is precise and descriptive. The artist mixes some ochre pigments with his ink to define Lao-tzu's face, hands, scroll wrapper and the ox's eyes.

Li Keran (1907-1989) is arguably the most prestigious modern ink master, famed for both his imposing landscapes and lovely water buffaloes.

Li drew buffaloes and buffalo boys in a simple manner. It seems that he not only wanted beautiful images but also used them to symbolize good temperament and the spirit of Chinese people.

For centuries, folk artists across China have created all sorts of folk art works, such as quilt work, knitting, pottery, wood and bamboo carvings, pillows and paper cuttings, either in the shape of oxen or featuring images of oxen.

Catering to today's youth, folk artists have developed such ox items as necklaces, cell phone holders, mugs, and small toys that hang in cars.

China Post Corporation and China Mint Corp have reportedly produced various ox-themed works for Year of the Ox, such as first-day covers, stamps, and gold coins.

To mark the coming Year of the Ox, Chinese museums and galleries are holding exhibitions featuring images of oxen.

In Beijing, visitors can also see vivid oxen depicted in porcelain, paper, bronze ware, jade and root sculpture at the Capital Museum and National Art Museum of China during the Spring Festival season.