A pair of Recumbent Oxen

  • China
  • China, Late Eastern Zhou period
  • 4-3cB.C.
  • Bronze, silver
  • H-5.9 D-15 W-7.5
Catalogue Entry

These two recumbent oxen, with all four legs folded, show mirror-image symmetry both in their forms and surface patterns. The surfaces are decorated with cloud-like bird motifs of silver inlay. The heads of birds can be seen around the shoulders and rumps of both oxen. Small circular motifs, line motifs, and grain motifs are executed from the hips to the ankles, grain motifs around the eyes, and line motifs as eyebrows. The wrinkles of the throats are represented by wavy lines. Black stone is inlaid for the eyes.

These oxen figures are thought to have been used as weights to anchor the corners of woven mats, which were usually made in symmetrical sets of four or more. The word 鎮, which now means simply a weight, originally referred to those made of jade such as zhen and xi. There are many extant examples, however, made of various metals from the Zhou period on through the Han periods.*1

Each ox head has a third short horn between the regular ones, which adds divine significance. The same type of short horn is also seen on the bronze divine animal excavated from the tomb of Zhongshanguo in Pingshanxian, Henan Province.*2

Three other examples of bronze oxen from the Zhou period are known; the ones found in Quizin Huayuan Shouxian, Anhui Province and in Xiazhicun Pingyinxian, Shandong Province, a pair of ones in a personal collection in Paris, and one in the Miho Museum.*3

A pair of Recumbent Oxen