DOI: 10.29039/2413-189x.2023.28.123-140 ISSN: 2413-189X

Christian Symbols in Wall-Painting of Burial Vaults of Chersonese

Irina Zavadskaya

The wall-paintings of 11 burial vaults of Chersonese, including mostly floral and vegetal designs, images of birds and imitation of marble wall-facing, correspond to the iconography of the early Christian funerary painting in the Late Roman Empire dating from the last quarter of the fourth to the early fifth century. Most likely, the outside painters of the Chersonesan vaults followed already established and well-known decorative and symbolic system by making a certain set of scenes. There is an image of undoubtedly Christian symbol, namely the Christogram, surviving on the vaulting of two structures only (uncovered in 1853/1905 and 2003/2006). There are four burial vaults more, featuring by the remains of paintings, possibly also of the Christogram. The line-drawing of the surviving images of Chersonesan Christogram meets with almost exact analogies, for example, in the tombs of Sophia, Thessalonike, and Sardis. For the first time, this article suggests that, apart from the Christogram, there was another Christian symbol used in the early Christian funerary painting of Chersonese, namely the four-petalled rosette, known from the walls of two burial vaults (the first located on N. I. Tur’s land, and the second uncovered in 2003/2006). The images of similar rosettes appeared on the pieces of art and in the funerary painting from the Hellenistic Period on. This extremely popular design of Classical art was primarily a decorative element and attribute of the garden of paradise. However, the Christians, especially in the age when the cult of the cross developed, most likely viewed the cruciform as a symbol. This observation concerns primarily the paintings with four-petal rosettes occupying an accentuated position in their decorative programme, actually replacing the image of the cross. A very vivid example of such use of the cross-shaped flower is the painting of tomb no. 37 in Thessalonike. In Chersonese, a case of the kind is the painting of the back wall of the burial vault located on N. I. Tur’s land. From the symmetrical location of three identical cross-shaped rosettes accompanied with two peacocks, with the middle rosette in the very centre of the composition, framed by a semi-circular fluffy garland, there are reasons to interpret them as cross-shaped symbols rather than simple plant designs.

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