for ADN Kronos International on Oct. 29, 2010
Rome, 23 June (AKI) - Italian art restorers have discovered the oldest known paintings of Christ's apostles, Paul, Peter, Andrew and John, in Rome. The restorers used new laser technology to uncover the 4th or 5th Century images in a burial chamber in the district of Ostiense.
The icons may have influenced later depictions of Christ's early followers, according to archaeologists.
The icons were discovered on the stunning ceiling of the tomb of a Roman noble woman during a restoration project at the Saint Tecla catacombs.
The four apostles are painted inside gold-rimmed circles on a red ochre background. The ceiling is also decorated with geometric designs and cornices featuring naked youths.
The two-year-long, 60,000 euro project was funded by the Vatican.
"All monuments of this kind need to be able to contribute to contemporary culture and let their voices, values and and beauty speak out," said senior Vatican official Gianfranco Ravasi.
Ravasi is president of the Pontifical councils for culture and for archaeology and presented the project findings to the media on Tuesday.
The painstaking and delicate restoration project reported its first results in June last year when an image of St Paul was uncovered in the catacombs.
Further laser work allowed restorers to burn off thick white calcium carbonate deposits that had accumulated on the walls and ceilings of the tomb through extreme humidity.
They then uncovered the icons of three other apostles, Peter, John and Andrew.
"It was very, very emotional to discover this," said Barbara Mazzei, director of restoration for the Pontifical archaeology council.
Like the Byzantine images of Peter, a fisherman, the newly uncovered icon depicts him as an old man with white hair and a white beard.
But the images of Andrew and John show much younger faces than are usually shown in the ancient paintings.
"They are the first icons. These are absolutely the first representations of the apostles," said Fabrizio Bisconti, the superintendent for archaeology for the catacombs.
Andrew, Peter and John were among Christ's original 12 apostles.
The walls and ceilings of the sumptuous burial chamber are covered with paintings and scenes from the Old Testament, including Daniel in the Lion's Den, Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac.