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 Pig are honest, sincere and genuine. They have a heart of gold and everyone admires Pig people the most. They are called upon when sincere advice is needed and will always give a helping hand. Pig people are the best friend anyone can have. They are also fun-loving and know how to throw a good party, but if rubbed up the wrong way they can be extremely vengeful. They can also be naive which allows others to take advantage of them. They have a great thirst for knowledge and although they do not always say much when they do decide to speak nothing can stop them.
Pig Years: 1911, 1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031
The following objects show examples of pigs from different parts of the V&A's collections. The pig has different meanings to different cultures and religions throughout the world.
'Vasya Vajravarahi', sculpture
Museum no. IM.197-1937
The Buddhist goddess Vasya Vajravarahi ('Diamond Sow') represents wisdom and emptiness. Her symbol, the boar's head emerging from her skull, represents the delusion of ignorance that must be overcome in tantric practice. Her name signifies the Varahi or female aspect of the boar manifestation of Vishnu, Varaha, of Vajrayana Buddhism. She is a form of dakini, goddesses who 'walk in the sky', and ultimately represents inner space. Such figures are used to inspire, instruct and initiate human practitioners.
Boar, earthenware figure
Hannong's pottery factory (manufacturer)
Museum no. C.212-1951
Wild boar are recorded throughout history. To the ancient Greeks the wild boar was considered destructive and ferocious and so they were hunted by heroes who could show off their bravery by killing the boar. The Romans also hunted wild boar, but are also believed to have tamed them and kept them for their exotic meat, dished up on special occasions. Today colonies of boars still thrive in the wild across central Europe, Asia and South America. They are still considered dangerous, known for causing damage to woodlands and for killing other animals. They are now hunted using rifles and occasionally dogs and their meat is still a delicacy. The wild breed has a thick bristly coat and can be distinguished from the domestic breed by its longer legs and narrower head and snout.
The Florentine boar, bronze statuette
The Florentine boar
Associated with Antonio Susini
Museum no. A.153-1910
The original Florentine boar was carved from marble some time during the centuries BC by a Greek sculptor. The original Boar was said to have been excavated with other figures which together made up a hunting scene, depicting the Calydonian Boar killed by Meleager. In the late 16th century, the Boar was displayed alongside two dogs and a figure of a man in the throes of attacking it.
Museum no. FE.170-1992
This Chinese papercut shows a pig. The papercut is an example of Chinese folk art. They are traditionally placed in the windows of homes during festivals. Many are made from red paper and the subject matter is chosen to celebrate the festival, as well as lucky or prosperous symbols or imagery for warding off evil spirits. The designs are often intricate and the forms are rarely realistic, but instead an artist's interpretation of a particular folk tale or religious story. The Chinese New Year is one of the festivals for which papercuts are created and the animal representing the new year is often included in the designs.
Edward Lear, 'The letter P'
'The letter P'
One of 26 drawings from 'A Children's Nonsense Alphabet',
Museum no. E.868-1951
This is one of 26 drawings from 'A Children's Nonsense Alphabet', showing four different styles upper and lower case and copperplate, with the drawing of a pig. There is a poem below the drawing which says: 'P was a pig, With a tail so curly, Sometimes he was good, And sometimes surly.'
'Meleager and the Calydonian Boar', bronze relief
'Meleager and the Calydonian Boar'
Probably by Jacob Cornelisz Cobaert, after a design by Guglielmo della Porta
Museum no. A.15-1952
The hunting of the Calydonian boar was one of the most famous episodes of Greek heroic legend. The giant boar was sent by an angry Diana to destroy the land of the King of Calydon. Atalanta, the huntress, was the first to injure the boar, which was finally killed by Meleager. Meleager awarded the hide of the boar to Atalanta, whom he loved, but this angered the other hunters, including Meleager's uncles, and a fatal fight ensued. Meleager's demise was soon after. At his birth the Fates (the spirits that decided upon a man's destiny), had decreed that he should not die until a log of wood burning in the hearth had been consumed. His mother had snatched it from the flames to save Meleager, but on hearing of the killing of her brothers, had thrown it back into the fire and he perished.
Clockwork toy pig, Manufactured in either Germany or France
Clockwork toy pig
Manufactured in either Germany or France
Museum no. MISC.28-1967
This clockwork pig and rider are interesting examples of the type of toy which was very popular in the late Victorian era. Toys like these were made in large numbers, usually in Germany for export to Europe and America. Being small they were easy to despatch and attracted smaller import and export duties than did the larger toys.
Museum no. A.942-1910, A.943-1910
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), such as these ones in the form of wild boars asleep on maple leaves. A netsuke portraying an animal from the East Asian zodiac was particularly associated with the New Year festivities of the appropriate year, but could also be used at any time during that particular year, and again 12 years later in accordance with the cycle.
Museum no. A.53-1915
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 hardwearing. Above all they had to have the means of attaching the cord. Although netsuke were made in a variety of forms, the most widely appreciated is the katabori (shape carving). This is a three-dimensional carving, such as this one, which portrays a wild boar running at full gallop. Most of the leading woodblock-printed books included illustrations that could be copied directly or adapted as netsuke. This provided craftsmen with an enormous range of subject-matter. This netsuke closely resembles a page from the Ehon shaho bukuro (Bag of sketching treasures). This book was illustrated by Tachibana Morikuni and published in 1720. Both the illustration and the netsuke show the boar running with all four legs outstretched. This is how people thought animals ran before photographs captured their movements accurately. From the late 1700s onwards, many more makers signed their netsuke. This one is signed Toyomasa. It was probably made by Naito Toyomasa (1773-1856), who was largely responsible for the fame of netsuke in Tanba province.