Art History



Degree Name

Master of Arts in Art History (M.A.)

Type of Paper/Work

Qualifying paper


Vanessa A. Rousseau

Second Advisor

Mark Stansbury-O’Donnell

Third Advisor

William L. Barnes


As a nonviolent prophet, shepherd and one who has journeyed to the underworld and back, Orpheus easily took on associations with Christ in early Christian Rome. One particular image in which he represents Christ is a tomb fresco in the Catacomb of Saints Peter and Marcellinus, datable to the fourth century. Considering Late Antique modes of viewing and Orpheus’ functions in both Christian and Pre-Christian Rome, I analyze the iconography of this Orpheus and the symbols surrounding him, to develop a profile of Orpheus’ hybrid meaning in Late Antique Rome. I follow this study by comparing the iconography of this image to elements of the cult of Saints Peter and Marcellinus in order to reconstruct the religious beliefs and values of the tenant of this tomb. Next, I compare the gesture of Orpheus in this image to that of an orant,
which is a representation of an individual in prayer. By comparing these gestures, I identify this image of Orpheus as an allegorical portrait of the deceased and use this identification to link the image to the professional identity of the tomb’s occupant. This dual identification marks this Orpheus as negotiating they hybrid identity of Roman Christians in general and for this decedent specifically.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.