The Ox was the second of all the zodiac animals, meaning the Ox was the second animal to arrive at the Jade Emperor’s party when he was deciding the order of the animals. In fact, the story goes that the Rat tricked the Ox into giving him a ride, but jumped down from the Ox’s back ahead of him in order to take first place. Here’s some of the most noteworthy oxen from art history!
Mother and Child Divided, Damien Hirst, 1993
This may make some readers upset, but you cannot deny that Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde works will forever have a mark on art history. The sculpture consists of four tanks containing two halves of a calf and a cow preserved in chemicals. The work is usually installed so that the viewer can walk between the animals and was first exhibited at the Venice Biennale, contributing towards Hirst’s winning of the prestigious Turner Prize.
The Rape of Europa, Titian, 1560-1562
Part of Titian’s Poesies commissioned for Philip II of Spain, this painting tells the story of Europa’s abduction by Zeus. In the story, the Greek god convinced Europa to climb onto his back as he assumed the form of a bull. Once Zeus revealed his identity to Europa, she became the Queen of Crete. While the story seems a little difficult to believe, it’s an undeniably epic painting.
Guernica, Picasso, 1937
This is easily one of Picasso’s most recognisable works. The black and white painting was made in response to the bombing of Guernica in northern Spain and shows the suffering of animals and humans as a result of violence. One of the most prominent characters in the work is a bull, whose tongue has been replaced with a dagger. The bull is said to be an important symbol in Spanish culture, but Picasso left its interpretation up to the artwork’s viewers.
Bull-Leaping Fresco, 1450 BC
It’s always nice to include some really old examples. This stucco relief scene was found at the palace of Knossos in Crete, Greece. The work is thought to be from the Minoan period, where depicting the handling of bulls was a common theme in art. Bull leaping was thought to illustrate man’s ability to master nature. This work also includes what looks like acrobats, which might suggest the figures in the painting engaging in some form of bull-riding sport.
Cows, Vincent Van Gogh, 1890
Vincent Van Gogh made this painting of cows in 1890 while staying with a doctor in the north of France and is said to have been inspired by an etching made by Paul van Ryssel. There’s not much to say about these cows, except that they’re quite lovely.
The Companions of Odysseus Steal the Cattle of Helios, Pellegrino Tibaldi, 1554
This fresco tells the story of the Cattle of Helios. The tale, which is also known as the Oxen of the Sun, focuses on cattle on the island of Thrinacia. Helios was the god of the Sun and had many oxen which were guarded by his daughters. However, when Odysseus ends up on the island in distress, his crew sacrifice the cattle to the gods behind his back while he prays for help. A battle ensues and this scene is reflected in the painting as Helios takes revenge for his cattle being slain.
Moonlight, Philip James de Loutherbourg, 1777
This painting of a cow and other animals is praised for the artist’s use of light, which he reflects on the animals’ skin and on the water. It is said to have been met with great acclaim when first exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1778.
Text Lizzy Vartanian