Cast Iron Ox

Object nr. 604 China, Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) Height: 27 cm | length: 37 cm

Private Collection, The Netherlands

Condition Report available

€ 17,500

This object can be viewed in our gallery.

Additional information

The Ox

Cast iron figure of an ox. The animal, which was cast using piece-moulds, has a hollow body. The bellie is closed and has two holes, probably for spacer pegs used during casting. Along the back, head and underside are clear mould-seams. The ox stands on all four legs and the tail, on a high narrow frame. The ox has long curved horns and small ears. It has decorative halter, embellished with beading on its forehead. The stylistic features show many similarities to pottery and bronze figures of the same period.

Domesticated animals, such as the ox (niu), were important to agriculture and welfare in China. Their importance to everyday life, is testified by the recurrence of these animal representations, excavated from tombs. Even though pottery animals are the more common, cast iron animals have also been found from the Han up to the 14th century. Perhaps being made from metal, they were considered to be more luxurious and sturdy than ceramic versions, but more economical than bronze objects.

This is the year of the (metal) ox, one of the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac, it is emblematic of springtime, fertility and agriculture in general. Cattle was highly valued, as a beast of burden and draught animal used for wet-rice cultivation. The ox was also the symbol of gentle strength and an ideal and simple country life. They are particularly associated with warding floods, and as such often placed by rivers or lakes .

The British Museum, London, holds two cast-iron oxen - both from a later date (nr. 1993.0804.1 & 1994.0129.5).

- Nicole de Bisschop, Het Rijk van de Draak: Meesterwerken uit het Henan Museum in China, Exhibition Catalogue Kunsthal Sint-Pietersabdij, Gent 2002

- Tan Derui & Lian Haiping, The Ancient Chinese Casting Techniques, China Foundry, vol. 8 nr. 1, 2011

- Catalogue Guangxi Ethnic Culture Antiques Collection, Guangxi,  2006

- The Tsui Museum of Art, Chinese Ceramics I: Neolithic to Liao, CatalogueTsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1993

- Joseph Needham & Donald Wagner, Science & Civilisation in China Vol 5 Chemistry and Chemical Technology Part II: Ferrous Metallurgy, Cambridge, 2008

- Jessica Rawson, The British Museum Book of Chinese Art, London, 2007

- The Smiling Kingdom:The Terracotta Warriors of Han Yang Ling,  Exhibition Catalogue National Museum of History Taipei, 2009

- Patricia Welch, Chinese Art: A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery, North Clarendon, 2008

- Wang Zhongshu, Han Civilization, Yale

Floris van der Ven