Niu (牛) in Chinese refers to ox, oxen, cows, cattle, and buffalo. It is the ultimate provider of opulence - the bull calves are the workers of the fields, manure the fertilizer and fuel, milk the ultimate nourishment. No wonder niu was worshipped as the mother goddess who cares for, feeds, and creates all life. The reverence for niu still continues in all civilisations. Lenient, calm, steadfast, loyal, courageous, and many other virtues are the values projected on the images of niu.
In Chinese civilisation, niu was not only a votive offering, it also served as the crucial role in agriculture in the agrarian society. The image of the ancient philosopher Lao Tzu (ca. 6-4 BC) riding a water buffalo is the embodiment of his wuwei (無爲, inexertion) philosophical avocation.
The Southern Song poet Lei Zhen captures the Eastern pastoral idyll in his work Rural Scene:
As the Lunar New Year begins, we have selected a few past highlights from our Asian Art Department and across other departments to celebrate the Year of the Ox. We wish you a Happy Niu Year!
PAIR OF WUCAI VASES
QING DYNASTY, 19TH CENTURY
Sold for £8,750 incl premium
CELADON JADE BRUSH POT
JIAQING MARK BUT PROBABLY LATER
Sold for £5,750 incl premium
CHINESE EXPORT FIGURE GROUP OF A BOY AND WATER BUFFALO
MID QING DYNASTY
Sold for £2,500 incl premium
BROWN MOTTLED JADE RECUMBENT WATER BUFFOLO
EARLY QING DYNASTY
Sold for £22,500 incl premium
JAPANESE BRONZE FIGURE OF AN OX
SIGNED UNNO YOSHIMORI II (1864-1919)
Sold for £3,250 incl premium
STUDY OF TWO COWS
JOHN BOULTBEE (BRITISH 1753-1812)
Sold for £12,500 incl premium
ANCIENT GREEK VOTIVE COW
GREECE, C. 450 B.C.
Sold for £1,625 incl premium