(Chinese, active c. 1145)
Album leaf; ink and color on silk
Image: 25 x 26.7 cm (9 13/16 x 10 1/2 in.); with mat: 33.3 x 40.5 cm (13 1/8 x 15 15/16 in.)
Severance and Greta Millikin Purchase Fund 1960.41
Li You included such tiny details as circular patterns of hair on the buffalo’s hindquarters.
Here, a herdboy tending a cow with a calf is sitting beneath a tree with his pet myna bird. The painting can be read as a pastoral scene. As the water buffalo helped plow the fields, it was perceived as an animal that endures hard work without gain for itself, often interpreted as a metaphor for the official.
Ox-herding pictures, presented as gifts in court circles, were used for their moral and political rhetoric. The Yijing (Book of Changes) states, The Receptive is the earth, the mother . . . it is a cow with a calf . . . the multitude [in relation to the ruler].
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