the adoration of the magi, appeared markedly earlier than other scenes from Jesus' earthly life, including such images more common in later Christian art as the Last Supper or the transfiguration. And with the arrival of scenes of the passion and the enthroned Christ came other new iconographic types now usually identified with imagery of the Christian emperor, such as an empty cross surmounted by the chi-rho within a wreath (fig. 13, below, p. 587). In conjunction with this transformation in iconography was the gradual disappearance of the earliest motifs, including the shepherd and Jonah.

The new iconography of the trial, passion, triumph and enthronement of Christ excluded any representation of the actual crucifixion- a striking contrast with the extensive discussion of Christ's passion in Christian literature of this period. In fact, with few exceptions, images of the crucifixion cannot be dated earlier than the early fifth century, and they are extremely rare until the sixth or even the seventh. Different theories have been offered to explain this apparent exclusion: that early Christians de-emphasised the death ofJesus, that the scene was too shockingto beportrayed, orthat the central mystery ofthe faith should be hidden from the uninitiated.19 None of these theories by itself adequately explains the absence of crucifixion imagery, however, especially considering the existence of depictions of other scenes from the passion story, which neither underplayed nor disguised the means of Jesus' death. Furthermore, images of violent or sacrificial death were well known in the pagan world, and might have provided possible models.20 Whatever the reason for its early absence, the eventual appearance of crucifixion imagery coincides with the rising popularity of pilgrimages to the Holy Land in the fourth century and beyond, and the dissemination of relics of the cross.21

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment