THIS is a figure which re. appears many times in catacomb art. It is known as the Orante. Always portrayed as a Woman, she stands with her arms raised in prayer in the same gesture as the priest uses today when he reaches the Canon of the Mass.
The attitude is a magnificent one, open and free, it seems to gather the whole world into its act of praise. There have been many meanings
attached to the Orante. She is thought by some archaeologists to represent the departed soul enjoying the happiness of absolute freedom in heaven. The hands are uplifted in a classical gesture of prayer, either of adoration or of intercession.
She is always portrayed in a few washes of simple colour which would be visible even in flickering candlelight. Everything irrelevant to her message of prayer has been deliberately omitted, her function is spiritual and she fulfils it without the least consciousness of the neces
sity of beauty. Consequently even an earthly beauty in the simplicity of the form emerges and cannot he
In this, as in much else from the catacombs, one is reminded of the art of the resistance movement in France during the last war. Matisse and his followers inspired the resistance forces by calligraphic designs. brilliant in colour, and simple in design. In the joycrusness of their themes (death, destruction and scenes from Christ's Passion
never apfeanrteodoi. there is a parallel In he fotid Iris Conlay
Ctitacomh, Rome (about 290),