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§ 85. Pictures and Sculptures.

The most important remains of the catacombs are the pictures, sculptures, and epitaphs.

I. Pictures. These have already been described in the preceding chapter. They are painted al fresco on the wall and ceiling, and represent Christian symbols, scenes of Bible history, and allegorical conceptions of the Saviour. A few are in pure classic style, and betray an early origin when Greek art still flourished in Rome; but most of them belong to the period of decay. Prominence is given to pictures of the Good Shepherd, and those biblical stories which exhibit the conquest of faith and the hope of the resurrection. The mixed character of some of the Christian frescos may be explained partly from the employment of heathen artists by Christian patrons, partly from old reminiscences. The Etrurians and Greeks were in the habit of painting their tombs, and Christian Greeks early saw the value of pictorial language as a means of instruction. In technical skill the Christian art is inferior to the heathen, but its subjects are higher, and its meaning is deeper.

II. The works of sculpture are mostly found on sarcophagi. Many of them are collected in the Lateran Museum. Few of them date from the ante-Nicene age.538538    Renan dates the oldest sculptures from the end of the third century: "Les sarcophages sculptés, représentant des scènes sacrées, apparaissent vers la fin du IIIe siècle. Comme les peintures chrétiennes, ils ne s’écartent guère, sauf pour le sujet, des habitudes de l’art païen du méme temps." (Marc Auréle, p. 546). Comp. also Schultze, Die Katak. 165-186, and especially the IXth part of John Henry Parker’s great work, which treats on the Tombs in and near Rome, 1877.38 They represent in relief the same subjects as the wall-pictures, as far as they could be worked in stone or marble, especially the resurrection of Lazarus, Daniel among the lions, Moses smiting the rock, the sacrifice of Isaac.

Among the oldest Christian sarcophagi are those of St. Helena, the mother of Constantine (d. 328), and of Constantia, his daughter (d. 354), both of red porphyry, and preserved in the Vatican Museum. The sculpture on the former probably represents the triumphal entry of Constantine into Rome after his victory over Maxentius; the sculpture on the latter, the cultivation of the vine, probably with a symbolical meaning.539539    See photographs of both in Parker, Part IX, Nos. 209 and 210, and pp. 41 and 42.39

The richest and finest of all the Christian sarcophagi is that of Junius Bassus, Prefect of Rome, a.d. 359, and five times Consul, in the crypt of St. Peter’s in the Vatican.540540    See a photograph in Parker, l.c., Plate XIII; also in Lundy, Monum. Christianity, p. 112.40 It was found in the Vatican cemetery (1595). It is made of Parian marble in Corinthian style. The subjects represented in the upper part are the sacrifice of Abraham, the capture of St. Peter, Christ seated between Peter and Paul, the capture of Christ, and Pilate washing his hands; in the lower part are the temptation of Adam and Eve, suffering Job, Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem, Daniel among the lions, and the capture of St. Paul.

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