The Women at Christ's Tomb and the Ascension (The "Reidersche Tafel")

Rome, circa 400
Ivory plaque
Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Inv.-Nr. MA 157

In the lowest register the three women encounter the angel at Christ's tomb. The artist has not given them the spice jars that will become common in images of this episode. The tomb on the right strongly resembles the Aedicula that Constantine constructed beneath the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for the actual tomb of Jesus.

In the upper right, Christ ascends into Heaven as if by walking up a mountainside. His hand is taken by the hand of the Father, a gesture which preserves the passive idea in Luke and Mark's phrasing: "he was taken up into Heaven."

Kessler, Introduction to "The Christian Realm: Narrative Representations" (Weitzmann, p. 454), suggests that the choice of an ascent as if up a mountain is based on the Old Testament reading for Ascension Day in the liturgy of the western church, which is taken from Genesis 19:16-25 (Moses' ascent to the mountaintop).

The disconsolate figures on the left and right are most likely the soldiers who, according to Matthew 28:4, "for fear of him … were struck with terror, and became as dead men."

In the tree that seems to be growing from the tomb, birds feast on a plenitude of fruit, a clear symbol of the spiritual sustenance gained from the Resurrection.

Read more about images of the Ascension and the Resurrection.

Source: This page at the website of the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum.