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All are, as far as we know, agreed in serieg, that what De Rossi cails the “ Ciclo Bibioo," ise, the definite series of purely Scriptural subjects represented in many of the Roman Catacombs, belong to an earlier period of Christian art than those of special saints, martyrs, Bishops of Rome, and of other sees, which are also there to be found. And there are many reasons for thinking, with Signor De Rossi, that the pictures of this “ Scriptural Cycle” are, with few exceptions, to be referred to the second and third centuries of our era.
The more special marks, however, whereby relative date may be determined, may best be illustrated by actual examples, such as will shortly come before our readers. Yet we may say, speaking generally, that the latest date to any of the pictures in the Roman Catacombs, is the middle of the ninth century, whereas, in the mosaics and frescoes of churches above ground, we have a series, which commences indeed shortly after the close of the fourth century, but which, in the form that they now present, may belong to any period between the fourth century and the present time. The two series, that of the Catacombs, and that of the churches above ground, mutually illustrate each other; and it is only by such comparison that their true history can be determined, and their great historical importance be appreciated.
With these few data to start with, we will, without further preface, join issue with Dr. Northcote upon one of the three controverted questions upon which he invokes the evidence of these early monuments. Those questions are,—the worship due (according to the Roman Church) to the Mother of our Lord; the divinely ordained preeminence of the Roman See, as being the See of St. Peter; and the doctrine of the Sacraments, particularly that of the “Mass.” One of these questions, the first, will more than suffice for our present consideration. We may possibly deal with other questions at some future opportunity.
Protestant writers who had preceded Dr. Northcote in speaking of the doctrinal evidence of the Catacombs, had noted the marked contrast between primitive and modern Rome in all that relates to the blessed Mother of our Lord. One of these writers, Mr. Burgon, if we mistake not, after personal examination of the Catacombs (such of them as are now shown), stated, that he “had only seen a single certain specimen of a painting of the blessed Virgin in all the Catacombs, that this was of a comparatively late date, and that it was idle to attach
* Exception is to be made, probably, for some few remains dating from the time of Constantine.
much importance to so singular an exception.” Upon this Dr. Northcote says, in effect, that the writer in question evidently knows nothing about the matter, as such paintings are “very numerous.” And, in justification of his remark, he refers to two facts. He speaks first of the frequent occurrence of “Oranti,” figures standing with outstretched hands in what was of old the ordinary attitude of prayer. Among these, he says, is a figure of a woman, which is frequently found as a companion to the Good Shepherd, and which “a multitude of considerations” leads him to believe was “intended for our blessed Lady, or else for the Church, the Bride of Christ, whose life upon earth is a life of prayer, even as His holy Mother is similarly employed in Heaven.” Of the two interpretations, he rather inclines to the first. His reasons for doing so he gives at some length. We need not examine them in detail, the simple facts being these :—These figures, of which examples are here given, are of frequent occurrence, as Dr. Northcote states, and represent sometimes men, sometimes and more commonly women, in an attitude of prayer. Not unfrequently these “ Oranti” are found (dressed as men, as women, or as children, as the case may be) upon the actual loculus, the stone that encloses the grave. Is a Caianus,' or a Respectus, 1 taken to his rest in early boyhood ? — a youthful “ Orante” is seen upon his tomb, a bird? beside him, and on the other side, yet
8 “A figure of a woman (the Virgin Mary, according to Dr. Northcote) fre. quently found as a companion to the Good Shepherd.” As a comment upon these words, we append the following analysis of twenty examples (all that are known to us) in the Catacombs, in which the “Good Shepherd” is so represented as in any sense to be described as accompanied by an Orante.
In five of these instances, this figure of the Shepherd occupies the centre of the decorated roof of a sepulchral chamber, and there are four figures of Oranti in the surrounding compartments. In two out of these five examples, half of the Oranti are men, and the others women.
In yet five more cases, there are two Oranti, one on each side of Our Lord (as the Good Shepherd). And in these five, either both are women, or one of
them a man, the other a woman in one case evidently man and wife, see Aringhi R. S. tom. ii. p. 209).
In yet nine instances more, the figure of the Good Shepherd is seen, where in some part or other of the same chamber occurs an Orante, perhaps as one out of many figures on a ceiling, or in part of the same Arcosolium. [In one at least of these (ibid., ii. p. 257) the Orante is a man. And in one only example do we find one female Orante side by side with a figure of the Good Shepherd, such as will answer to Dr. Northcote's description. As to this exceptional instance, see below, p. 828. ' 9 Aringhi R. S. tom. i. p. 606.
Ibid. tom. ii. p. 259.
Typical probably of the soul of the departed. The two birds are on the tomb of Caianus.
another bird, bearing an olive branch, pledge of peace and of new life to one escaped from the troubled waves of the world. Or does a wife, bereft of her husband, now “in peace," commemorates her tender love for ber own “Leo,” and his approved worth ?-once more a male Orante is figured upon his tomb. Is it again a Fautina, a Decia,* or a Marcella, who is commemorated ?—the veil upon the head of the Orante on each tomb would mark clearly, even if the inscription were wanting, that it is wife, or mother, or daughter, whose memory is here fondly cherished. In a multitude of other instances, where sepulchral chambers (cubicula), or portions of them, have been set apart for special use, one or more Oranti, male or female, or both together, form part of the decoration of the chamber. With these facts before them, few reasonable persons, I suppose, would come to any other conclusion than that to which Bosio,
3 Leoni dulcissimo marito cojux Urso se biba (i.e., viva) benemerenti in pace. (Aringhi R. S. tom. ii. p. 135.) For other examples of male Oranti, see tom. ii. p. 63, 105 (four men, two of them named, see Marriott's Vest.
Christ. Pl. vi.) pp. 109, 183, 257. And
4 Aringhi, tom. ü. p. 262.
Aringhus, and others, constantly give expression, viz., that these Oranti serve to commemorate the faithful departed.
This interpretation, however, finds no favour with Dr. Northcote. He speaks of it as a supposition which “some have entertained,”-one that "possibly may be sometimes correct.” But “in the majority of instances," he “ feels certain that it is inadmissible.” He is apparently not aware that there are such things as male Oranti (he never, as far as we have observed, alludes to their existence). And accordingly his only doubt is, whether these figures are intended “for our blessed Lady, or else for the Church, the Bride of Christ.”
We ourselves, after a careful examination, can find but one Orante, properly so called, in all the Catacombs, which can, with any probability, be interpreted as referring to the Virgin Mary. But while we state this without any hesitation as our own opinion, we will add, that for any controversial results dependent on the question, there is no reason whatever that we should wish to impugn the very different opinion of Dr. Northcote. The very contrary. A figure of the Virgin Mary, undistinguished by any conventional attributes from other women, herself standing in the attitude of prayer6—let this be contrasted with the same subject as we shall see it represented six centuries later--the Virgin Mother then crowned as a queen, seated upon a heavenly throne, which she shares with our blessed Lord, or uplifted by Seraphim and Cherubim, as the Queen of Heaven, and herself the object of man's worship; this it is precisely (as we shall shortly see) which constitutes the difference between Christian art (and Christian belief) in the first five centuries, and Roman Mariolatry in the ninth, in the twelfth, or in the eighteenth century.
We purposely confine ourselves as far as possible, in the present paper, to matters strictly pertinent to the special subject now under consideration. We therefore do not now enter at greater length upon the subject of these Oranti. But in connection with this question, we have a grave charge to make against Dr. Northcote; and this, as a matter in which justice ought to be done, we cannot pass over in silence.
6 Such a representation does occur in several examples of the Vetri Antichi, or ornamented glasses figured by Garrucci (Vetri Ornati, &c. Pl. ix., 6, 7, 10, 11), and after him by Northcote, R. S. Pl. xvii. These glasses, with few exceptions, belong to a period of very degraded art. Those now in question we should assign to the fifth century. Roman antiquaries generally speak of them as of the fourth century at latest; but as far as we can ascer
tain, they have very little reason to show for their opinion. But there are very strong reasons (of a technical kind, in reference to the use of the nimbus) for assigning many of them to the fifth, if not to the sixth, century. [Dr. Littledale, however, who is never at a loss for an assertion, assures us that the art of making these glasses was lost at the end of the fourth century. How can there be any doubt about the matter after this ?]
Our readers will have observed, that in the words already quoted (above, p. 825) from Dr. Northcote, he lays stress upon the fact, that an Orante is frequently found as a companion to the Good Shepherd; and he adds an expression of his strong belief, founded on a “multitude of reasons," that this is intended for the blessed Mother of our Lord. Of this frequent conjunction of the two figures we have already spoken (Note 2, p. 825). Such virtual misrepresentations, as that there pointed out, are what Dr. Northcote is unconsciously making again and again throughout the controversial parts of his book, and would not therefore call for any exceptional remark here. But in the case now before us, he has done much worse. He has deliberately manipulated and disguised an important monument to which he makes appeal, and which he publishes as one of his illustrations. If our readers will turn to his Plate viii., reproduced, as he states it is, from Bosio, they will find what is apparently the strongest confirmation of the statement that he had made. They will see an Orante represented side by side with our Lord (symbolized as the Good Shepherd), and forming with him one composition, in which the juxta-position of the two figures was evidently designed. The picture, as given, is just what Dr. Northcote could most wish to prove his point. We ourselves came upon it accidentally, just after a careful examination of all the pictures in the Catacombs, as given by Bosio and Aringhus. Almost the last sentence that we had written, in summing up the results of the investigation, was this : “In one only example do we find a single figure of a female so placed side by side with the 'Good Shepherd,' as to form with Him what was evidently intended to be a studied and significant juxta-position, and to make up, between the two, a complete picture. And in this one exceptional instance, the Orante is clearly marked out as a Christian martyr by the 'attribute' of an instrument of torture, a scourge loaded with lead or iron, which is painted on a large scale beside her.” Our astonishment may be imagined, when, on turning to Dr. Northcote's Plates, the moment after writing this, we found this very fresco produced in proof of the frequent juxta-position of the Virgin Mary and the Good Shepherd; and the one feature which was specially characteristic of it, serving at once to determine its meaning, had been removed from the picture, and not the slightest reference anywhere made to its existence. Had this remarkable feature in the picture been preserved, any skilled antiquary would at once have seen that the picture could not possibly be intended for the Virgin Mary. And even ordinary observers could hardly have failed to feel, as it were by intuition, that
7 “Flagellum quoddam ad corpus excruciandum,” is the description of Aringhus.