|Images of Jesus Christ in
Very early Christian images tend to represent Christ through representative figures such as a lamb, a shepherd, or even Orpheus from classical myth (seen, respectively, in the examples at left). There is one mosaic from ca. 390, however, that represents him quite naturalistically.The symbolic approach preserves to some extent the Jewish practice of not making images of the divine. It also had a practical benefit. Images of shepherds and Orpheus were common, and indeed resemble each other, so artists did not have to learn a new figurative language in order to serve Christian buyers.
The choice of Orpheus relates to his nearly successful rescue of Eurydice from Hades, an obvious parallel both to the story of Christ's triumph against Hell in the Resurrection (see Harrowing of Hell) and to the belief that the Christian individual is saved from the fires of Hell by Christ's sacrifice on the Cross. However, the Christ/Orpheus images do not represent this aspect of the Orpheus legend. Instead, they adopt the motif, common in art, of animals gathering around Orpheus to hear his sweet music.
At left, above: 6th-century ivory diptych
At left, middle: 3rd-century catacombs painting
At left, below: 3rd-century catacombs painting
Roman relief of Christ as Shepherd
Lamb of God relief ca. 1000