Relief of Mithras slaying the bull (Mithras Tauroctonos)
about A.D. 125–175
Place of Manufacture: Italy, Lazio, Rome
Sculpture in Stone (MFA), no. 240; Sculpture in Stone and Bronze (MFA), p. 112 (additional published references); Highlights: Classical Art (MFA), p. 044-045.
Height x width: 65 x 85 cm (25 9/16 x 33 7/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Marble, from Carrara in northwest Italy
Roman Art Gallery (Gallery 213)
This relief shows an important scene from the life of Mithras, a god of Iranian origin whose cult had established itself in the Roman world by the second century A.D. The slaying of the bull terminated the god’s heroic labors and served as the central image in the cults sanctuaries (known as mithraia). Mithras is shown here plunging a short sword into the bull’s throat. He wears oriental costume, a belted tunic with overfold, tight sleeves, trousers, boots, and a short cloak fastened by a large round brooch.
The relief is broken away irregularly through the neck and cloak of Mithras, and on the right side by his right hand and including the bull’s forefeet and the body of the dog. Both the raised right hand and the knife or short sword in the bull’s throat are well preserved. A badly damaged, small strip of the molding survives on the right. The remaining surfaces are in superlative condition, with some root marks and a light yellow patina usually characteristic of Pentelic marble. Details such as the chasing or brocading on Mithras’s footgear are as fresh as the day they were carved.
Harvard Lab No. HI772: Isotope ratios - delta13C +2.15 / delta18O -2.17, Attribution - Carrara, Justification - Very fine grained marble.
By date unknown: with Edward Perry Warren (according to Sculpture in Stone: from Rome; said to have been found near the Ponte Palatino, in the river bed or bank); gift of Edward Perry Warren to MFA, September 1892
Gift of Edward Perry Warren