The Chinese use the lunar calendar for festive occasions including the New Year which falls somewhere between late January and early February. The cycle of twelve animal signs derives from Chinese folklore as a method for naming the years. The animals follow one another in an established order and are repeated every twelve years - rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Each animal has particular characteristics and people born in a certain year are believed to take on these characteristics.
People born in the Year of the Ox are strong, reliable, fair and conscientious, inspiring confidence in others. They are also calm, patient, methodical and can be trusted. Although they say little they can be very opinionated. They believe strongly in themselves, but are also stubborn and hate to fail or be challenged. Although they do not lose their temper easily their anger can become explosive and impulsive. They are serious, quiet and not naturally sociable, which can make them dull. Ox people have a great deal of common sense.
Ox Years: 1901, 1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021
The following objects show examples of oxen from different parts of the V&A's collections. The ox has different meanings to different cultures and religions throughout the world.
Nandi, Shiva's Sacred Bull
Shiva's Sacred Bull
Late 16th, early 17th centurys
Museum no. IS 73-1990
Temples dedicated to the deity Shiva, the Hindu lord of creation and destruction are to be found throughout the Indian subcontinent. An essential element in any Shiva temple is the image of Nandi, the sacred bull-calf, whose name means 'joyfulness' or 'blissfulness'. In the ordering of temple space, Nandi occupies an axial position, focusing the attention of the faithful from the outer halls of the temple directly into its spiritual heart, the 'garbhagrha', or 'womb-chamber'. Images of this scale and larger were usually housed in a pillared hall or 'mandapa', which stood independent of the principal shrine and was orientated toward the east, facing directly into the temple, so that Nandi's intimate relationship with Shiva was made explicit.
Creamer jug in the form of a cow, John Schuppe
Creamer jug in the form of a cow
Museum no. M.1691-1944
This silver cow is a cream jug. Jugs in the form of standing cows were made in London in some quantity during the mid 18th century. Most bear the mark of John Schuppe, and were made between 1753 and 1773. His name indicates that he probably came from The Netherlands where cow creamers made in ceramic were already fashionable. All these creamers follow the same basic form, with a looped tail and a saddle-shaped lid with a finial in the form of a fly. Both silver and silver-gilt versions are known, and variations occur on the type and amount of hair on the body and head. Taking milk or cream with tea was not an established convention until the 1770s and so cream jugs were designed individually in a variety of shapes. From the 1770s they were designed ensuite with matching teasets.
Sandstone roundel, Jan van Schayck
Jan van Schayck
Museum no. A.16&:2-1945
This is one of four sandstone roundels carved with the symbols of the Evangelists. The Evangelists were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, who wrote the four Gospels of the Bible. These conventions had been established in the Medieval period, and are found regularly in Romanesque and Gothic art. The roundels would have originally acted as roof bosses and probably decorated the vault of the library on the north side of Utrecht Cathedral. The winged ox shown in this roundel is the symbol or attribute commonly associated with St Luke. The early Christian church represented the evangelists as four winged creatures: St Matthew, an angel; St Mark, a lion and St John, an eagle.
'The Frog and the Ox', figure group
The Frog and the Ox
Haffreingue porcelain factory
Museum no. C.274-1915
This sculpture depicts two animals featured in one of Aesop's fables - 'The Frog and the Ox':
'Oh Father,' said a little Frog to the big one sitting by the side of a pool, 'I have seen such a terrible monster! It was big as a mountain, with horns on its head, and a long tail, and it had hoofs divided in two.'
'Tush, child, tush,' said the old Frog, 'that was only Farmer White's Ox. It isn't so big either; he may be a little bit taller than I, but I could easily make myself quite as broad; just you see.'
So he blew himself out, and blew himself out, and blew himself out.
'Was he as big as that?' asked he.
'Oh, much bigger than that,' said the young Frog.
Again the old one blew himself out, and asked the young one if the Ox was as big as that.
'Bigger, Father, bigger,' was the reply.
So the Frog took a deep breath, and blew and blew and blew, and swelled and swelled.
And then he said, 'I'm sure the Ox is not as big as this.'
But at that moment he burst.
Self-conceit may lead to self-destruction.
William Carpenter, 'Yak or Thibet ox and hillman from Kunawur'
'Yak or Thibet ox and hillman from Kunawur'
Museum no. IS.68-1882
This painting depicts a hillman from Kunawur (modern Kinnaur, a district bordering Tibet) with his yak. The yak is also known as the ox of Tibet because the wild breed originates from the Tibetan plateau. The yak is one of the largest of the wild ox and is part of the bison family. It typically has long shaggy hair on its flanks and underside and a bushy tail. It has curving horns and stands six foot tall at the shoulder. In some parts of Asia half-breeds have been domesticated and offer one of the few means of transport for people living in remote locations.
'Bovril. Alas! my poor Brother', based on the original design by W. H. Caffyn
Bovril. Alas! my poor Brother
Based on the original design by W. H. Caffyn
S. H. Benson (advertising agent)
Museum no. E.147-1973
This is a poster for Bovril beef extract. The advertising agent S. H. Benson, whose first account was that of Bovril, successfully established it as a household name. First conceived in 1896, ‘Alas! My Poor Brother’ had enduring popularity. It won second prize in a Bovril competition for the most popular poster in 1923. It was bought from the Avenue Press, and is an example of a speculative design bought from these printers. The image was then used in posters, colour throwaways, press advertisements and plaster models for shop window display.
Thomas Bewick, 'The Chillingham Bull'
'The Chillingham Bull'
Museum no. 23539
This wood-engraving by Thomas Bewick shows an example of the wild cattle of Chillingham Park in Northumberland. They are one of the original herds of emparked wild cattle and still roam over the 300 acres of Chillingham Park. The origin of the breed is believed to go back to ancient times in Britain, possibly descending from the ox. The bull is renowned for its fighting capabilities, and the strongest bull will become 'king' of the herd, siring all the calves born during his tenure. The remarkable survival of the breed is believed to be due to the strength and fittness of the bull.
The Dacre Bull, carved figure
The Dacre Bull
Museum no. W.6:1 to 5-2000
This figure of a red bull holding a banner, forms part of a group which, together with a griffin, ram and dolphin, are known as the Dacre Beasts. The banner bears the medieval arms of Lord Dacre and his armorial crest, which are represented by three scallop shells. The Dacre Beasts are rare survivors of a tradition of heraldic ornament. They represent one of the most powerful families in Northern England and are unique survivors of free standing, large-scale wooden heraldic sculpture from the English Renaissance.
The Adoration of the Magi', carved alabaster panel
The Adoration of the Magi'
Carved alabaster panel
Museum no. A.98-1946
This alabaster panel shows a scene from the Biblical story of the birth of Christ. Nativity scenes are usually set in a barn where animals would be housed. A mule and an ox can be seen at the bottom of this carved panel.
Museum no. A.957-1910
The netsuke is a toggle. Japanese men used netsuke to suspend various pouches and containers from their sashes by a silk cord. Netsuke had to be small and not too heavy, yet bulky enough to do the job. They needed to be compact with no sharp protruding edges, yet also strong and hard-wearing. Above all, they had to have the means for attaching a cord. Netsuke were made in a variety of forms, the most widely appreciated being the katabori (shape carving), a three-dimensional carving, such as this one in the form of an ox. From the 18th century onwards, netsuke were increasingly signed with the carver’s name. This example is signed ‘Tomotada’. Izumiya Tomotada was one of three great netsuke carvers active in Kyoto during the late 18th century. Works by Masanao and Yoshinaga, the other two Kyoto carvers, are comparatively rare. However, there is a large group of netsuke signed ‘Tomotada’ that are of good or exceptional quality. It is known that even in Tomotada’s lifetime there were many forgeries of his work, so identification of genuine signatures is difficult.