Chinese zodiac: the Year of the Sheep
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 Sheep (also known as the Year of the Goat or Ram) are creative and have great artistic talent. They are easy-going and have good manners and charm. They are also sensitive and compassionate, want to make everyone happy and will avoid confrontation, prefering peace and quiet. They may appear calm but underneath are anxious and insecure, needing to feel protected and loved. Sheep people can be very indecisive, lazy and lack ambition. They are also facinated by the mysterious and are often religious. Sheep people are gentle and caring, but need lots of love and attention themselves.
Sheep Years: 1907, 1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027
The following objects show examples of sheep from different parts of the V&A's collections. The sheep has different meanings to different cultures and religions throughout the world.
'The Dacre Ram', figure
'The Dacre Ram'
Museum no. W.8:1 to 4-2000
This figure of a white ram holding a banner, forms part of a group which, together with a bull, griffin and dolphin, are known as the Dacre Beasts. The white ram is the supporter of the de Multon (or 'Mouton', French for sheep and hence the ram) coat of arms, which can be seen here on the banner. 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.
Brass dish, Flanders
Late 15th to early 16th century
Museum no. M.353-1924
Lambs have long been used as symbols of sacrifice. The lamb was the sacrificial animal in ancient religious rites, including those of the Hebrews, and was adopted by early Christians as the symbol of Christ in his sacrificial role. From its other attributes, real or imaginary, the lamb has also been associated with innocence, gentleness, patience and humility. This lamb decorates the inside of a brass basin and symbolises the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). Northern European brass basins dating from the 15th century adopted a form that had been popular since medieval times, with a small diameter and deep sides. The whole of the bottom of the inside of these basins was covered with relief decoration. The subject matter usually fell into one of three categories: scenes from classical antiquity, themes from the Old or New Testaments, or allegorical figures personifying vices and virtues. Such basins stood on buffets in middle-class town houses.
'Annunciation to the Shepherds', stained glass panel
'Annunciation to the Shepherds'
Stained glass panel
Museum no. 2270-1900
The glass roundel depicts the story from the Bible of the annunciation of the birth of Christ to the shepherds. It shows a standing shepherd with a fuller's staff, a seated youth with chanter bagpipe ('chorus'), a sheep with dog and an angel emerging from clouds.
'Sheep and a lamb', limestone relief
'Sheep and a lamb'
Museum no. A.76-1926
It is thought that this early 19th-century limestone relief, together with seven other reliefs, originally came from an unidentified house in the City of London that was about to be demolished. Between 1878 and 1916 they were positioned over fireplaces in 1 Lowther Gardens, Princes Gate, London. The original context for this relief and other similar reliefs is unknown.
Porcelain figure, Johann Joachim Kandler (modeller)
Johann Joachim Kandler (modeller)
Meissen porcelain factory
Museum no. C.111-1932
Augustus the Strong of Saxony (1670-1733) was a passionate collector of porcelain. He built his ‘Japanese Palace’ in the 1720s to house his vast collection of Far Eastern and Meissen porcelain. This goat is one of nearly 600 life-size animals and birds that he ordered from the Meissen factory for his porcelain menagerie, planned from 1730 onwards. In the event, technical problems and his death in 1733 led to the abandonment of the project before this number had been achieved.
Museum no. FE.62-1992
This Chinese papercut shows a man herding sheep. The papercut is an example of Chinese folk art. They are traditionally placed in the windows of homes during festivals and the subject matter is chosen to celebrate the festival or to protect the home such as 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.
Late 18th or early 19th century
Museum no. A.64-1915
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 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 a goat. 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.
'The Infant St. John the Baptist', painted pinewood statuette
'The Infant St. John the Baptist'
Painted pinewood statuette
Circle of Jose Risueno
Museum no. 171-1864
This statuette shows the infant St. John the Baptist with a lamb. St. John is often depicted with a lamb symbolising Christ, the son of God. There are many metaphorical references to sheep in the Christian faith. Church of England and Roman Catholic priests hold a shepherd's crook during ceremonies. This symbolises the priest as the shepherd and the 'faithful' are the flock of sheep who need tending.
Richard Redgrave, 'Sweet Summertime - Sheep in Wotton Meadows'
'Sweet Summertime - Sheep in Wotton Meadows'
Museum no. 232-1885
This oil painting depicts an idyllic English rural landscape with sheep and a shepherd. It is set on a hazy summers day when even the shepherd appears to have no cares in the world. Sheep are often used to re-enforce the picturesque quality of views of the English countryside.