EARLY CHRISTIAN SCULPTOR, Italian
(active early 4th century in Rome)
The Good Shepherd300-20
Museo Pio Cristiano, Vatican
The allegorical figure of the Good Shepherd was originally based on the pagan representation of a man bringing his offering to the altar but, by the 3rd century, had also come to represent the 'ram bearer' with its connotations of philanthropy and loving care. The latter image accorded well with the Christians understanding of a divine Shepherd who would lay down his life for his flock. In a period of persecution, such images had the advantage of directly addressing the adherents of the Christian faith while not drawing attention to them, since the images were already popular with non-Christians.
There are some 26 extant marbles from antiquity depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The figure is usually beardless and youthful and carries a sheep draped over the shoulders. The sculptor of the present version incorporated the contrapposto stance, made known by the Greek sculptor Polykleitos in the fifth century BC, with one weight-bearing leg straight and the other bent naturally as the weight shifts.