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Recumbent Bull
Recumbent Bull, c. 1775
Soga Shohaku, Japanese
Ink on paper; mounted as a hanging scroll
52 1/4 x 21 inches (132.7 x 53.3 cm) Mount: 81 1/2 x 26 inches (207 x 66 cm)
Purchased with the New Members Fund, 1971
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Looking Questions

  • What kind of animal is this? How can you tell?
  • What is he doing?
  • Do you think he is young, middle-aged, or old? Why?
  • How many brush strokes did the artist, Soga Shōhaku, use to create the bull’s body? What part of his body is mostly white paper?
  • What kind of personality do you think this bull has? Why?

Art Project: Ink Painting

Have students paint their favorite animal with sumi ink, or another black ink on absorbent paper. Students should use the thickest paintbrush possible and execute a fast, simple drawing of their animal, using a minimal number of brushstrokes. Ask students how they can show the characteristics of an animal with a few lines. Do they need an outline around their animal, or can they, like this artist, just use their brushstrokes to build up the body of the animal without an outline? These drawings should be spontaneous. Have students work quickly and do several. Students can display the one they like best in class.

Research Idea

Animals are used as symbols in many cultures, but the meanings differ. Have students compare and contrast the qualities of animals in Chinese and western European zodiacs. Students can also research the symbolic meaning of the ox or bull in a variety of cultures. Pose the following questions to students. Why do people every year, during the festival of St. Fermin in the month of July, run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain? What is the symbolism of Nandi the bull in India? How about the Chicago Bulls basketball team? Merrill Lynch, the investment company? Why do you think so many groups use animals to stand for ideas?

Group Activity: Describing with Adjectives

Break students up into small groups, and give each group a picture of an animal. (Be sure to include the Recumbent Bull as one of them.) Ask each group to keep the picture of their animal a secret. Next, have each group make a list of ten adjectives that describe their animal, then ask them to write the adjectives on the blackboard. When all the lists are written on the board, show each picture and have the whole class guess which animal belongs with which list of adjectives. Discuss adjectives and their uses.

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