Abstract

Funerary painting of Ptolemaic Alexandria as a model for an Early Christian iconographic cliché
Valeria Kuvatova 

The iconography of Jonah resting under the gourd vine (the most popular Early Christian representation of resurrection and happy afterlife) is believed to have originated from late antique images of the Endimion’s dream, although the latter lack the conspicuous iconographic detail of the former twisting vine with marrow-like fruits. The visualization followed Biblical description of the episode. In fact, Septuagint (the Greek version of the Bible) did mention a marrow-type pumpkin, while the original Hebrew version of the story referred to a quite different plant. The shift from one plant to another is likely to have been made in the course of translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek language, which was made in Alexandria in 3rd century BC. The first known depiction of gourd vine considerably predates the Early Christian images of resting Jonah. One of the Alexandrian monumental tombs (tomb 3, Wardian necropolis) of the late Ptolemaic period was decorated with landscape paintings of exceptional quality that included a depiction of a male figure reclining under a pergola entwined by the gourd vine. Yet another composition contributes to the striking parallelism between the tomb 3 Wardian and Early Christian funerary paintings, namely a depiction of a shepherd in the rural environment carrying a sheep on his shoulders. Roughly three centuries later precisely the same combination of almost identically rendered scenes appeared in Early Christian catacomb paintings. It seems safe to assume the Alexandrian influence on Early Christian iconographic type of Jonah under the gourd vine.


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