Five Oxen is a painting by Han Huang, prime minister during the Tang Dynasty (618–907).
The painting was lost during the occupation of Beijing by the Eight-Nation Alliance in 1900
and later recovered from a collector in Hong Kong during the early 1950s. The painting,
now stored in the Palace Museum in Beijing, is 139.8 cm long and 20.8 cm wide.
The five oxen, walking or standing, holding their heads high or bowing their heads, are
portrayed with different appearances and vivid bearings. One ox is even drawn from frontal
angle. With simple lines and smooth but forceful strokes, the painter vividly depicted the
bones and muscles of the oxen and elaborately delineated the tiny hairs on their heads and
around their muzzles. In this painting, all the oxen have bright and piercing eyes. The stress
of the painter on their eyes lively shows their docile and stubborn natures. The oxen are not
depicted with any background to set them off. Marked with exact and lifelike shapes, light
and simple colors, dark and pale washes as well as rich gradations, the painting combines
appearance perfectly with spirit. The theme of ox, a traditional subject of ancient Chinese
painting, manifests the dominant idea in China, an age-old agricultural nation: agriculture is
the foundation of the society. This painting has a great artistic and historical value and it is
considered as one of the best with animals as subject in the Chinese history of art.
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