the life of the infant Jesus was displayed on the front apse wall in opposition to an extensive Old Testament cycle in the nave.

The entire programme at S. Maria Maggiore illustrates the underlying idea of Christ's prophecy that the covenant of the Old Testament would be fulfilled by the covenant of the New Testament. The forty-two scenes from the Old Testament in the nave of S. Maria Maggiore were not chosen for their content alone, but were meant to prefigure the salvation history of the New Testament scenes on the triumphal arch. This was in keeping with the general Christian desire to claim the Old Testament as a book about Christ. The underlying idea of the Old Testament cycle is to present God, Christ and the church as God's Holy People from the very beginning. Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Sephora and Rahab, all ofwhom are depicted in striking red-orange garments, are the female bearers of the idea of the pre-existing Church, and are led to the antitypes of Jesus: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Joshua. The theologian who devised this 'highbrow' cycle was possibly criticised because the mosaics were unduly difficult to view and their theology insufficiently persuasive; there is no discernible sign that the mosaics from S. Maria Maggiore exercised influence elsewhere.50

The purpose of the apse paintings was entirely different from that ofthe nave mosaics, of whose existence most congregants were probably unaware. The nave mosaics were usually devoted to the earthly life of Christ and the saints. The fact that the apse was located behind the altar would almost automatically mean that its theme was associated with the act of worship. But appearances are deceptive. Apse pictures are not liturgical pictures even when they depict Christ as a particularly large and isolated figure, as is the case in S. Cosma e Damiano in Rome. Apse images were never worshipped, but they attracted notice, and in some cases they teach the believer how to approach the divine. Cult objects must somehow be accessible to and palpable for congregants, but apse pictures never were. Their function was to direct the congregation's gaze to the hereafter. The spherical curve of the apse was itself an image of the cosmos. Virtually all apse pictures portray Christ, Mary or the saints with stars, clouds and rainbows on a blue or gold background. Apse pictures were part of the presbytery, which was clearly separated from the congregation's area in the nave or side aisles. Apse images never tell a story, but instead provide congregants with a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven. Congregants would have found convincing the proposition that, once in heaven, the saints would intercede with Christ and Mary on their behalf. Apse mosaics and

50 B. Brenk, Diefriihchristlichen Mosaiken.

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