Mythology of The Bull

We celebrate the return of John Kearney’s Bull from conservation restoration with an esoteric collage from the History of the Bull.

Picasso is well known for his adoption of the Bull as his alter-ego or avatar.  As a young boy, his first drawings were of bulls and bullfights.  Bullfighting in Spain is over 2,000 years old and may have had religious beginnings. Today, it still symbolizes the most sublime confrontation of man versus nature.  Hemmingway may have put it best, “it is the only true sport, all others are merely games.”  Regarding symbolism, Picasso said, “It isn’t up to the painter to define the symbols. Otherwise it would be better if he wrote them out in so many words. The public who look at the picture must interpret the symbols as they understand them.”

Picasso, Minotaure dans une barque sauvant une femme, 1937.  Private collection, Photo Courtesy Gagosian; © 2017 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Nicknamed the “Dumb Ox” because of his taciturn speaking, Thomas Aquinas created history with his reconciliations of Christianity with Aristotelian philosophy.  Seen here holding a church and his Summa Theologica written in 1265. His book melded faith with reason and it remains a doctrinal basis for the Roman Catholic Church.  Aquinas is also studied today for his literary exegesis of allegorical interpretation.  Carlo Crivelli, St. Thomas Aquinas, 1476, tempera, 61x41cm, courtesy The National Gallery, London.

Abstract stars and constellations conjured tales of life on planet Earth.  Greek mythology regarded the Bull as Zeus who became the bull to win the heart, or just seduce, Europa.  Taurus is Latin for Bull.  Art by John Flamsteed, drawn in 1776, published in Atlas Celeste. Ed. J. Fortin. Paris, 1776, image courtesy of Linda Hall Library, Kansas City, Missouri.

Goya, like Picasso, regarded bullfighting as a seminal part of his country’s and his identity.  On the one hand, the Tauromaquia etchings celebrated the ferocity in facing abject terror and perhaps prevailing.  But on the other, Goya faced the contradiction and in his Bulls of Bordeaux lithographs also delineated the abuses of man over animal.  A 1969 Dover book, image courtesy of Abe Books, Victoria, British Columbia.

The City of Fargo, North Dakota in 1978 commissioned Luis Jimenez to create a work of art that would capture the values of the Midwest.  After months of research, Jimenez landed on depicting a farmer hand-plowing difficult fields with two oxen, titled Sodbuster.  Jimenez’s genius was twofold; first, to depict the farmer and his animals as if they were from Mount Olympus, as Herculean man and beast. Second, to present the public outdoor sculpture, not in marble or bronze, but in the mainstream technology of molded fiberglass, brightly colored, capable of supreme details.  Jimenez created a postmodern work of art that is both true to values of the traditional Midwest and true to the period in history using late-modern technologies.  Photo courtesy of City of Fargo.

Picasso’s Bull’s Head, 1942 from a child’s handlebars and bike seat is the definition of transmogrification, the magical transformation of one material into a vision where the originating material is forever altered.  Image courtesy of KP Cyclery, Denmark.

The story of Laotzu and the Tao te Ching is widely known, but the Ox relationship to Laotzu perhaps less so.  Here, in this 16th-century pen and ink from the Ming dynasty presents Laotzu on his journey riding an Ox.  Throughout Asia, the Ox is venerated as the symbol of undisciplined power, but that with training can become extremely valuable.  Thus, the Ox has become the symbol of the disciplined sage who with contemplative practice and learning can become one with his own true nature.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia and the National Palace Museum, Taiwan.

Science and astronomy have done nothing to diminish the mythological power of the stars and their constellations.  In fact, science has probably only intensified the sublime majesty of the stars.  Here, the Taurus constellation has been mapped showing the 14th brightest star Aldebaran, the star cluster known as the Hyades whose triangular formation forms the face of the Bull, and whose long horns reach to the Crab Nebula.  The Pleiades ride the back of the Bull and are also known as the Seven Sisters.  Image courtesy of Trevor Jones, AstroBackyard.

Vlad Zhitomirsky and Mikhail Matveyev of VMD Sculpting have finished their restoration of Bull.  Rust free (for a while), surface meticulously refurbished, inside and out, and sealed with a protectant, Bull is ready for many more seasons in the outdoors. Photo courtesy of Vlad Zhitomirsky.

The Triumphant Bull standing tall.  Gleaming from head to toe, it looks magnificent.  The new concrete pad by Bevis Construction further enhances the Bull’s aesthetic appeal.  Photo: R. Freeman.