Carol Pellicani (after Carlo Buzzi), The Fall of the Idol of Dagon

West façade, Milan Cathedral

This relief is among four panels flanking the main door of the cathedral that reference the New Testament and the Virgin Mary, traditionally known as the "Ark of the New Covenant."1In I Samuel 5:1-5 the power of the Ark of the (Old) Covenant is demonstrated when the Philistines capture it, bring it to Ashdod, and place it in their temple next to an idol of Dagon. The next morning they find the idol on the floor. They put it back up, but the following morning half the statue lies in pieces on the floor.

This sculpture presents the scene on the second morning. On the left, the ark is pictured as a chest shaped and sized more or less as prescribed in Exodus 10-16. On its cover are the two cherubim prescribed in Exodus 25:17-21. On the right, the idol's feet remain on the pedestal, but the head and trunk lie on the floor. (In Exodus, only the head and hands fall off.)

The same event is famously represented in the frescos at the synagogue of Dura-Europos:

On the right the entire idol lies broken on the ground, dressed like a contemporary Persian. The man lying dead beside it and the jumble of objects represent the "exceeding great slaughter" that befell the city of Gath when the ark was next taken there. Fearing more disasters, the Philistine diviners ordered the ark to be returned to the Israelites in a cart drawn by two milk cows, as pictured in this painting. The ark itself is not a rectilinear chest but shaped as if to fit in the Dura synagogue's Torah niche. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

View the relief sculpture in full resolution.

Photographed at the cathedral by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

1 For example, as early as the 3rd century in Gregory Thaumaturgus's homily on the Annunciation (page 123): "let us chant the melody which has been taught us by the inspired harp of David, and say, 'Arise, O Lord, into Your rest; You, and the ark of Your sanctuary.' For the holy Virgin is in truth an ark, wrought with gold both within and without, that has received the whole treasury of the sanctuary."