Christian, c. 1400 AD


In this painting drawn from more familiar Christian iconography, many of the same symbols are still present with their ancient meanings intact. The central female figure is now Mary, the Virgin. Iconography and stories of the mother of Jesus first arose just as the ancient Egyptian culture was replaced by Christianity, and some think that Mary arose from the Egyptian goddess. In any case, burial was an important ritual for both cultures, and the early Christians kept their dead in cave-like catacombs, shown within the cave on the right. We see the dead approaching to enter. On the left is the traditional nativity scene, an explicit reference to the mother of the divine,  with its ox, ass and shepherds with sheep. All the animals from Noah’s Ark are also coming forth, a favorite Christian motif, which echoes the emphasis on the life-nurturing aspect of this story. The stream from Mary’s breast feeds the waters on which the animals and people rely. Mary’s halo is another version of the horned moon. In her lap are the fields of grain, another example of her as the source of food and life.

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