Vaults of Memory offers twentieth-century viewers a record of the catacombs of Rome. Glimpses of the Jewish catacombs of Villa Torlonia and Vigna Randanini, as well as of Christian and pagan cemeteries, document the present condition of paintings still visible on the walls and ceilings of these underground burial places. Photographs of fresco and relief, vaulted ceiling and mosaic floor, ritual vessel and crude graffito present a visual essay of Jewish and early Christian images, symbols, and epigraphy more than fifteen hundred years old. Augmented by artefacts and impressions, the exhibition reflects the intersections of religious thinking of the various sects in ancient Rome. In funeral iconography, Graeco-Roman myths are mingled with Old Testament themes, both of which influenced early Christian expressions of hope for the deceased.
Jewish, Christian, and Graeco-Roman Symbols Interwoven in a Tapestry of Grapevine Tendrils
1. A vault painting from the decorated cubiculum in the upper catacomb of Villa Torlonia shows Jewish ritual objects: a menorah (seven-branched lamp-stand), a shofar (horn), and ethrogs (citrons), while the grapevines, dolphins, and tridents were derived by both Jew and Christians from Graeco-Roman iconography. Drawn from J. B. Frey C. S. Sp., Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaicarum (Città del Vaticano, 1936. Reprint, New York, 1975), p. CXXVII.