|Fast Bull - a beautifully painted work by an unknown|
painter from the Kamakura period - originally a hand scroll, 10 Fast Bulls,
it was remounted as a hanging scroll (courtesy of Tokyo National Museum).
Cattle do not seem to occupy a great place in samurai lore. Though they were not uncommon in Japan, they seemed to have been used either as agricultural beasts of burden, or for pulling the carriages of nobles – neither occupation seeming to appeal particularly to the warrior class.
They appear in art in both these roles, as well as part of the 12 animals of the zodiac, and in Zen art as well. Perhaps they are best known in this connection in the 10 ox herding pictures, which provide an analogy to the path to enlightenment. These were formulated from earlier versions by Guo-an Shi-yuan (Kakuan Shien) in the 12thcentury, and illustrated most memorably by the 15thcentury priest-painter, Shubun. The pictures lose some of their charm when they are reproduced – the originals are small – intimate in their scale and detail, but I don’t think they have been equalled by later artists who tackled the subject.
|No. 6 in Shubun's series of Ox herding pictures|
As I mentioned in my New Year post last year, the bull also appears in Musashi’s writing – Rat’s head, bull’s neck is an entry in Gorin no Sho to describe a sudden switch in approach. I mentioned some commentary on the possibility of the original being horse, rather than bull (the two characters are very close) but given their places in the progression of the 12 animals, I think the combination of rat and bull was well known, and would thus have made sense to Musashi. The story of the order of animals also suggests some sense of a sudden change: the bull agreed to give the rat a ride to the place where the 12 animals were to meet; as they arrived, the rat jumped off the bull and so became the first to arrive.
Musashi also depicted a bull in a relatively unknown painting of Hotei. Here, he is riding on the back of one. This may have been a nod to the 10 oxherding pictures, and given Musashi’s connections, it is quite possible that he had seen Shubun’s works. Whatever its inspiration, it displays brushwork typical of Musashi, and establishes a dynamic rhythm in terms of contrast of line and volume and light and dark. Like many of Musashi's paintings, the tone seems lighthearted - they seem to be enjoying life. In Buddhist iconography, where Buddhas are depicted riding on animals, these may be interpreted as control of the physical passions. In this case, Hotei and the bull appear to have different ideas on where to go next, so perhaps his control was not as complete as he thought.
|Musashi's painting of Hotei Riding a Bull - this is from the book "Miyamoto Musashi |
no Suibokuga" (Miyamoto Musashi's ink paintings). Relatively unknown, I couldn't find any