Stellae Errantes: Astronomy Meets Myth Elephant paintings by Sarah Soward

Mercury painting of an elephant traveling on the backs of birds copyright Sarah Soward

The original painting has sold.

Purchase a print.


Status: Sold
Dimensions: 36x36 inches
Medium: Oil on canvas
Inspiration: Mercury, Roman deity and planet

Mercury is the fastest moving planet in our solar system and the Roman God, Mercury, was known for swiftness. He was a messenger deity usually depicted with winged sandals and hat. Rather than just putting wings on an elephant, Soward decided it would be more interesting to have a flock of birds traveling with Mercury. This way the elephant could walk through the sky. As the birds get tired other members of the flock could come in and take over and keep the elephant moving, keep the messages flowing.

The planet doesn’t turn very quickly. One day on Mercury is approximately 59 Earth days. So, one part of the planet is facing the sun for a very long time as it ever so slowly revolves. To show the idea of that, Soward made a strong, somewhat extreme, definition between the highlight and the shadow areas of the elephant. She was intentionally a little more mellow about the lighting on the birds.

The colors Soward used are inspired by color enhanced versions of photographs of Mercury that were taken by the Mercury Messenger. According to NASA’s website,, the images were enhanced to better show the differences in minerals, iron content and the like on the surface of the planet.

Watch time lapse footage of the painting.

Sol Invictus thumbnail copyright Sarah Soward 2015
Mercury thumbnail copyright Sarah Soward 2015
Venus Rhising thumbnail copyright Sarah Soward 2015
Terra Mater thumbnail copyright Sarah Soward 2015
Mars Gradivus thumbnail Copuright Sarah Soward
Jupiter thumbnail coyright Sarah Soward
Saturn thumbnail copyright Sarah Soward 2015
Urnaus thumbnail copyright Sarah Soward 2015
Neptune thumbnail copyright Sarah Soward 2015