Mithraism is a Religion of Indo-Iranian origins that was adopted by the roman soldiers in the Persian campaigns and was spread by them all over the Roman Empire. I was one of the most important religions in the late Empire, this cult was a feature of it for 400 years, being even the oficial religion in times of Aurelian in 274 a.C. when the Sol Invictus cult was declared official. This situation was no longer exist after Constantine declares official the Christianism in 313 a.C. There were a fight inbetween this two religions and finally Christianism became established.
Mithraism has been studied since the end of 19th century by Franz Cumont, the first one to studied and compile a vast material in a series of books and writings and today there are many works about this misteric cult. However, Mithraism has been studied in different points of view: Reeligion, History and Archeology, but I don´t know too many publications that raise the matter from the perspective of Art. Modestly, I’ll post some images concerning the artistic point of view about Mithaism.
So, the first one is related to the main divinity of the Mithraism that is not usually represented: the Sun God or Sol Invictus. The image I present comes from the Mithraeum of St. Prisca in Rome. There was a building dated in 95 a.C. that lately was rebuilt as Mithraeum before 202 a.C. later buried by the christian church of St. Prisca in which basement has survived the mithraeum. This let us affirm that this representation was done in the beginnings of third century.
I would like to comment one fact about the festivity of Sol Invictus. It was located in the calendar on December 25th, and the importance of it let us know why the Christianised Roman Empire deceided to put on top the birth of Jesus Christ over the Sol Invictus day. The religion of Christ must put over the rival Religion.
The image represents the head of the Sun God in a wall painting. It´s a personified divinity. It’s a round head, almost a circunference, attribute of the solar sphere. The face colour, orangey yellow, reminds also the brilliant Sun. He is placed over an intense blue background that surely represents the deep sky. The disheveled hair seems to represent the solar rays. In the face appears some blue parts as lips, pupils and an eyebrow, surely this is not the original colour and it´s due to the damage of the painting.
I also want to note about the expression: the head is partially turned to the right, we can see it by the position of the head respect the neck and the perspective of the head, cause we can see the left side more than the right one. Also the look is important: the God looks above, He is not looking to the viewer, he is above the humans, he belongs to the Sky and don´t pay attention to the humans. The God doesn´t communicate directly with the mankind, but there exist a hero that connects this two worlds, sacred and human, and he is Mithras. In further posts I´ll discuss about this important figure in Mithraism.
Coming back to the painting, the draw and the colours, the expression of the face, the look, talk about an experienced painter. This let us affirm that this is an important painting within the Mithraic art.
As I mentioned above, the Mithraic representations haven´t been considered in an artistical point of view, but I affirm that there are important reasons to research in this way.
Kyle Meredith Phillips, Jr. Reviewed work: The Excavations in the Mithraeum of the Church of Santa Prisca on the Aventine by M. J. Vermaseren; C. C. Van Essen. Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 85, No. 1 (Mar., 1966), pp. 115-116+118.
Alex Brattell. Mithraic Mysteries. On Magazine, Tursa Press, London, 1996, pp. 23-26