In 1401, under the patronage of the Arte di Calimala, a competition to decorate the east doors of the baptistery in Florence was announced. Of the seven Tuscan sculptors who entered the competition, the young Lorenzo Ghiberti, barely 20 years of age, emerged the victor. The subject of the doors was the story of the near sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22), and the theme was that of divine intervention. In this climactic scene, Abraham is poised to strike a fatal blow with his knife. Isaac is depicted as what some have called â€śthe first truly Renaissance nudeâ€ťâ€”perfectly proportioned, energetic yet graceful. An angelâ€™s gesture stops the sacrifice, and the viewer notices a ram caught in the thickets in the upper left-hand register. This text has long challenged communities of faith. Some Jewish interpretations, such as the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, posited that Isaac was 37 years old, and the near sacrifice was an act of faith of not one but two consenting adults, both Isaac and Abraham. Christian interpreters from the patristic period (if not earlier; cf. Hebrews 11:17) had interpreted the story typologically. Melito of Sardis, for example, wrote: â€śFor as a ram he [Christ] was bound . . . And he carried the wood upon his shoulders. And he was led up to be slain like Isaac by his Father. But Christ suffered, whereas Isaac did not sufferâ€ť (cf. Frag. 9â€“11).
Giotto di Bondone painted a fresco cycle of the life of Christ at the Scrovegni Chapel (also called the Arena Chapel) in Padua, Italy, in 1304â€“06. Pentecost is the final scene of the cycle. The arrangement of the disciples around a table is similar to the painting of the Last Supper directly opposite on the south wall. Such balance is typical of Giotto. The artist placed the figures inside an architectural space, which creates the illusion that the event occurred within a small church. This is probably the first visual depiction of Pentecost in a prominent location. The Holy Spirit is represented through rays of light emanating from outside the room and above the painted ceiling. It is striking that this series on Christâ€™s life concludes not with the ascension but with Pentecost, the birth of the church. The image visually anticipates C. K. Barrettâ€™s aphorism, â€śIn Lukeâ€™s thought, the end of the story of Jesus is the church.â€ť
An early Renaissance fresco by Fra Angelico (1395â€“1455) in the chapel of Pope Nicholas V at the Vatican commemorates St. Lawrence (m. 258) and St. Stephen. Scenes from the lives of the two martyrs extend across three walls of the chapel. The scenes were selected to show the saintsâ€™ parallel activities: being ordained, preaching, and helping the poor. They were both arrested, persecuted, and martyred. The arrest of Stephen can be seen on the left-hand side of the lunette, and the stoning is visible on the right. The wall of Jerusalem separates the scenes. The Sanhedrin brings Stephen to his doom before the men with the rocks who will stone him. As the stones are hurled at his back, Stephen kneels in prayers of petition, â€śLord Jesus, receive my spiritâ€ť (Acts 7:59; cf. Luke 23:46), and forgiveness, â€śLord, do not hold this sin against themâ€ť (7:60; cf. Luke 23:34).
The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, a popular theme in early Christian art, is depicted on the sarcophagus of Junius Bassus, a Roman prefect who became a Christian convert shortly before his death (ca. 359). The scene, used to depict Christâ€™s authority on earth, appears on the sarcophagus directly beneath an image of Christ enthroned with his feet on the head of Caelus, a primal god of the heavens in Roman mythâ€”an image showing that Christ is also ruler of heaven. There are striking similarities between depictions of Christâ€™s triumphal entry and those showing the triumphal arrival or adventus of an emperor in a newly conquered province. But there are significant differences as well. In the adventus iconography, the emperor is typically depicted in full military apparel, riding a royal steed, and leading a military procession in a victory parade. Christ, on the other hand, sits astride a humble donkey, amid simple followers, with no royal or military entourage accompanying him. Christ is a different kind of king.