Boy on a water buffalo

Artist: Sekkyakushi (14th-15th century)
Historical period(s)
Muromachi period, early 15th century
Ink on paper
H x W: 184.1 x 50.1 cm (72 1/2 x 19 3/4 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Hanging scroll

Japan, kakemono, Muromachi period (1333 - 1573), water buffalo
Provenance research underway.

In Zen Buddhism, known in Chinese as Chan, the theme of oxherding became popular as an analogy to the process of attaining spiritual enlightenment.  This gave rise to a genre of poetry consisting of sequences of poems called the Ten Oxherding Songs, developed in China during the eleventh and twelfth centuries.  These were reproduced by woodblock printing and transported to Japan.

This painting does not represent a specific stage of enlightenment as described in the poems or in the Buddhist sutra (sacred text), Zoichiagonkyo, in which the analogy between oxherding and enlightenment was first described.  Instead, the painter strives to capture the spiritual vitality of the enlightened being, an image meant to be apprehended directly through the senses rather than by means of intellectual analysis. Little is known about the painter, whose artistic name was Sekkyakushi.  He is traditionally identified as a monk of the Tofukuji, a Zen Buddhist monastery in Kyoto.

Published References
  • Zaigai Nihon no Shiho [Japanese Art: Selections from Western Collections]. 10 vols., Tokyo, 1979 - 1980. vol. 9: pl. 17.
  • Zaigai hiho [(Japanese Paintings in Western Collections]. 3 vols., Tokyo. vol. 2, pt. I, pl. 76.
  • Oriental Ceramics: The World's Great Collections. 12 vols., Tokyo. vol. 10, pl. 46.
  • Sherman Lee. Tea Taste in Japanese Art. Exh. cat. New York. .
Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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