Erich Lessing

In memoriam. Pagan images of memorial meals provide author Jensen with the key to understanding Christian banquet paintings. The most popular type of pagan scene shows the deceased reclining alone on a couch. But a second, less common type of pagan meal scene had the most profound influence on Christian art.

In images like this first-century painted marble tomb carving (shown here) from Trier, Germany, formally dressed diners lie on a couch and sit in chairs around a table with a meal of cakes, fruit and wine (compare with catacomb painting from the tomb of Scipios). Although the pagan paintings likely depict past meals with the deceased, the early Christians adapted the motifs to communicate a slightly different message: The Christian paintings represent future meals to be enjoyed in heaven.