This is one of the oldest Christian paintings on plaster. It comes from the catacomb of the martyr, St. Callistus, in Rome.
Bearing an injured sheep across his shoulders, the shepherd carries a pot of burning oil in his right hand—away from his thighs—while two other sheep follow close by.
Obviously it portrays Jesus in his essential role as Savior.
This Christ has the face of a man hardly twenty years old. It isn’t clear whether he is slightly bearded, but he wears no moustache, and his tunic is short, cut well above the knees.
These are little touches, but they suggest an unpretentious Christ who could be facing a cave entrance where he’ll bed down for the night, the sheep sharing the warmth and flicker of the little fire, as His body blocks the cave entrance against attack.
It is a picture of utter selflessness and devotion, and it elicits, not worship, but love. It is a good beginning for Art that can only portray Jesus in human perspective or be false to its own limitations and those freely shared with us by God’s own Son.
From Meditations on Some Art I Have Loved
By Fr. Hilary Sweeney, C.P.