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§ 79 Historical and Allegorical Pictures
From these emblems there was but one step to iconographic representations. The Bible furnished rich material for historical, typical, and allegorical pictures, which are found in the catacombs and ancient monuments. Many of them (late from the third or even the second century.
The favorite pictures from the Old Testament are Adam and Eve, the rivers of Paradise, the ark of Noah, the sacrifice of Isaac, the passage through the Red Sea, the giving of the law, Moses smiting the rock, the deliverance of Jonah, Jonah naked under the gourd the translation of Elijah, Daniel in the lions’ den, the three children in the fiery furnace. Then we have scenes from the Gospels, and from apostolic and post-apostolic history, such as the adoration of the Magi, their meeting with Herod, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, the healing of the paralytic, the changing water into wine, the miraculous feeding of five thousand, the ten virgins, the resurrection of Lazarus, the entry into Jerusalem, the Holy Supper, the portraits of St. Peter and St. Paul.488488 For details the reader is referred to the great illustrated works of Perre. De Rossi, Garrucci, Parker, Roller, Northcote and Brownlow, etc.88
The passion and crucifixion were never represented in the early monuments, except by the symbol of the cross.
Occasionally we find also mythological representations, as Psyche with wings, and playing with birds and flowers (an emblem of immortality), Hercules, Theseus, and especially Orpheus, who with his magic song quieted the storm and tamed the wild beasts.
Perhaps Gnosticism had a stimulating effect in art, as it had in theology. At all events the sects of the Carpocratians, the Basilideans, and the Manichaeans cherished art. Nationality also had something to do with this branch of life. The Italians are by nature art artistic people, and shaped their Christianity accordingly. Therefore Rome is preëminently the home of Christian art.
The earliest pictures in the catacombs are artistically the best, and show the influence of classic models in the beauty and grace of form. From the fourth century there is a rapid decline to rudeness and stiffness, and a transition to the Byzantine type.
Some writers489489 Raoul-Rochette (Mémoires sur les antiquités chrétiennes; and Tableau des Catacombes), and Renan (Marc-Aurele, p. 542 sqq.).89 have represented this primitive Christian art merely as pagan art in its decay, and even the Good Shepherd as a copy of Apollo or Hermes. But while the form is often an imitation, the spirit is altogether different, and the myths are understood as unconscious prophecies and types of Christian verities, as in the Sibylline books. The relation of Christian art to mythological art somewhat resembles the relation of biblical Greek to classical Greek. Christianity could not at once invent a new art any more than a new language, but it emancipated the old from the service of idolatry and immorality, filled it with a deeper meaning, and consecrated it to a higher aim.
The blending of classical reminiscences and Christian ideas is best embodied in the beautiful symbolic pictures of the Good Shepherd and of Orpheus.490490 See the illustrations at the end of the volume.90
The former was the most favorite figure, not only in the Catacombs, but on articles of daily use, as rings, cups, and lamps. Nearly one hundred and fifty such pictures have come down to us. The Shepherd, an appropriate symbol of Christ, is usually represented as a handsome, beardless, gentle youth, in light costume, with a girdle and sandals, with the flute and pastoral staff, carrying a lamb on his shoulder, standing between two or more sheep that look confidently up to him. Sometimes he feeds a large flock on green pastures. If this was the popular conception of Christ, it stood in contrast with the contemporaneous theological idea of the homely appearance of the Saviour, and anticipated the post-Constantinian conception.
The picture of Orpheus is twice found in the
cemetery of Domitilla, and once in that of Callistus. One on the
ceiling in Domitilla, apparently from the second century, is especially
rich: it represents the mysterious singer, seated in the centre on a
piece of rock, playing on the lyre his enchanting melodies to wild and
tame animals—the lion, the wolf, the serpent, the
horse, the ram—at his feet—and the
birds in the trees;491491 Comp. Horace, De
Arte Poët., 391 sqq.
Silvestres homines sacer interpresque deorum
Caedibus et victufaedo delerruit Orpheus,
Dictus ob hoc lenire tigres rabidosque leones.91 around the central figure are several biblical scenes, Moses smiting the rock, David aiming the sling at Goliath (?), Daniel among the lions, the raising of Lazarus. The heathen Orpheus, the reputed author of monotheistic hymns (the Orphica), the centre of so many mysteries, the fabulous charmer of all creation, appears here either as a symbol and type of Christ Himself,492492 This is the explanation of nearly all archaeologists since Bosio, except Schultze (Die Katak., p. 105).92 or rather, like the heathen Sibyl, an antitype and unconscious prophet of Christ, announcing and foreshadowing Him as the conqueror of all the forces of nature, as the harmonizer of all discords, and as ruler over life and death.
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