Traditional Interpretations of the Orante
Ever since their modern discovery in the catacombs and on other artifacts such as sarcophagi, Orante figures have been studied and interpreted by early church historians, art historians and other scholars. However, among present-day scholars, there is no consensus on their meaning.
One common interpretation of the Orante is that she represents the “soul of the dead person – whether a man or a woman – rather than an actual […] woman” 7 or “the immortal image of the dead, under the guise of a young girl.”8 The question becomes, why use a female figure to depict the soul? One explanation is that the word for soul in Greek, psyche, is feminine, and that the Orante is similar to other personifications of qualities and virtues; Nike, for instance, is a female personification of the quality Victory, and Tyche/Fortuna personifies Luck or Fortune.
However, in Gnostic and other literature of the early Christian period, Continue reading