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Mithras in colour

October 29, 2012

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The fact, that ancient statues and objects were not so monochrome as Winkelmann and the XVIII. century’s historians thought, now is a well known fact (see the works of Mark Bradley) and there are many articles, reconstructions where newly discovered statues, objects are represented in a vibrant, colourful way. Colours had not only esthetical meaning, but they represented also spiritual, philosophical messages.

In the cult of Mithras, colour was also a very important aspect. We know many examples – especially from the natural caves and grottos where frescos are preserved – that colour was an essential element in the “star talk” or sacred geography of the mithraeum (Beck 2006). The examples of  Marino, Dura Europos, Barberini, Capua or some notable mithraic object with remaining of colours (CIMRM 103, 148, 250, 321, 476,  546, 842, 948, 1117, 1578, 1675, 1924, 2027, – more than 70 examples) shows that Kultbilds (central reliefs or statues) and even ex voto-s were coloured. Though, there is a great problem to reconstruct the colours of a mithraic object: the polychrome aspects of some frescos varies too much, there are only few standard elements (the mantia of Mithras is blue, the taur is white andthe god’s  Persian cloths  -as the dadofors too – are red, but not in every example).  The reconstructions of  the interior and the colours of some mithraeums and central reliefs  became a “fashion” especially in Germany (Saalburg mithraeum, Frankfurt am Main museum,  Bible Museum, Nijmegen). Nowadays, in the latest reconstructions (Güglingen, Osterbrücken, Fertőrákos) the central relief and the interior are more natural, without the tendency to reconstruct the colour too. This two extremes are dominating now the mithraic heritage. The positive examples and detailed studies of the latest researches in the field (Bradley2009) shows that the detailed examination of the stones and the microscopic analysis can reveal more detailed and real colours.

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