Christ Teaching the Apostles.  Ca. 300 AD.  Fresco.  Height: 15 inches; length: 51 inches.

        Little significant Christian art or architecture dates from before the 4th century, mostly because of the illegal status of the Christian church and the clandestine life followers were forced to lead.  Nevertheless, scattered examples found in subterranean cemeteries of Rome and other Christian communities provide us visual evidence about early Christian beliefs and customs, and serve as signs of the times.  Among these are frescoes, wall paintings done on fresh plaster.  Most depict biblical subjects that reflect the devotees' hope of salvation and eternal life and their nightmarish fear of torturous, unending damnation.

        One common motif is the final communion meal shared between Jesus and his disciples.  Scenes of the Last Supper, disguised or intentionally ambiguous as they commonly were, were experienced as anticipation of the glorious banquet that awaited true believers in the next life.  A beardless Christ in a toga, as in the fresco above, is characteristic of its time and place in a Roman world.  Catacomb of Domitilla, Rome.