Giraudon/Art Resource, NY

Halos of holiness surround the leaders of Christianity and Buddhism in a 15th-century Russian icon (shown here) and a 17th-century Tibetan fresco (see image of 17th-century Tibetan fresco). The Buddha is often portrayed in the center of a busy, colorful network of scenes. Here, the Buddha is depicted at his first preaching; Jesus is shown at the Last Judgment, surrounded by scenes from his life.

Art historian Thomas Mathews of New York University has noted that the mandorla, or body halo, that encircles Jesus in early Christian art has its origin in Buddhist art. “Prior to the rise of Islam,” he writes, “the Mediterranean world was in much more direct contact with the East, where the Buddha was frequently represented before an oval, circular, or flame-shaped aureole…Most significant, the imagery of Buddha before his oval aureole was in circulation long before Christian art made use of the motif.”