Matsuda Sukenaga (1800-1871)

Hida Takayama, mid-19th century

A recumbent ox raises its head as a herdsboy, wearing a straw head-covering and check-patterned jacket, balances on it back. He smiles happily as he grasps the animal’s halter in one hand and a flute in the other. The image represents the seventh stage in Zen Buddhist enlightenment:

Astride the bull, I reach home.
I am serene. The bull too can rest.
The dawn has come. In blissful repose,
Within my thatched dwelling
I have abandoned the whip and ropes.

“In the seventh picture the oxherd has realized his identity with the ox; the ox can be forgotten, for it is none other than the experience of everyday things. This can be interpreted to mean that the separation of practice and realization has been overcome, as has the separation of ordinary reality and the ultimate reality. Until now he has been practicing meditation as a means of achieving enlightenment. But with realization of the non-duality of existence comes awareness of the identity of means and ends; practice itself is realization.[1]”

The ox is an uncommon subject in Sukenaga’s oeuvre. An example, without herdsboy, appeared as lot 7 In the sale of The Adrienne Barbanson collection of netsuke held at Bonham’s London on 13th May 2013. The composition and pose of both echo each other closely. In this example the joyful boy lays down his flute and the ox can now rest. The eye pupils of the ox are inlaid in dark horn.

[1]  Ox-Herding: Stages of Zen Practice, John M. Koller, Department of Cognitive Science, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Signed within a rectangular reserve: Sukenaga

Width: 4.1cm

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