Mithraism was a mysterious religion that worshipped the god of kings, Mithras. Roman artwork depicted the famous story of Mithras slaying the bull in order to describe his significance and his myth in their religion. Mithras Slaying the Bull, located in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, uses formal elements of art to show the importance Mithraism played in the Roman culture and their art.
Mithras Slaying the Bull is a Roman marble relief made in the early 3rd c. CE. Mithras’s iconic scene is a representation of the mysterious religion, Mithraism, in which he is worshiped for his role in the creation of the earth . Symbolism plays a significant role in Mithras Slaying the Bull because each symbol tells the myth of Mithras. The two heads at the top of the relief are the sun (Sol) and the moon (Luna) that watches over Mithras as he sacrifices the bull. The two twins that are on either side of Mithras and he bull are the celestial twins of light and darkness, light is the twin holding the torch up and darkness is the twin holding the torch down. The messenger, often known as the raven, was told by the sun god to tell Mithras to sacrifice the bull. This could be the bird like figure holding onto the tail end of Mithras’s cape. The raven is between the son god and Mithras representing its relationship between both figures. The dog, snake, and the scorpion represent the creatures of the dark that are awaken by light and are feeding off of the bull and represent the elements of earth.
Mithraism was a mysterious all-male cult that was known in Rome for loyalty to the emperor. The main god in Mithraism was a Persian god named Mithras and presided over many different areas of life, but he mainly was the god of the kings. Many of the Romans who practiced Mithraism were from the Roman army. Mithras’s myth was central to the religion, because it depicted Mithras’s creation of the earth through the sacrifice of the bull and the struggles that developed between Good and Evil. Mithras Slaying the Bull was an important scene for Mithraism that was often recreated to worship the Persian god in ceremonies as well as depicting an important aspect of the religions practices, such as the sacrifice of the bull.
Variety enhances the relief because of the contrast of different aspects in the design to create an effective piece. Although there is no color the contrasts create intensity. The placements of folds in the robes and the muscles in the figures are strategically placed so deep contrasts are created when a light source is shined on the piece. Contrasts of light and dark increase the meaning of the work through the way the relief is carved. On the left side the celestial twin of light is not obstructed by the cave ceiling allowing light to illuminate him. On the right side the celestial twin of darkness is further back and is under the cave and is obstructed from the light source. The contrast strengthens the composition through the accurate used of light...