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Christ the High Priest

Online Edition:
February 2014
Vol. XIX, No. 10

Christ the High Priest

by Daniel Mitsui

Christ the High Priest is depicted in this drawing wearing priestly vestments, holding a chalice and host, at the moment of the Mass when Ecce Agnus Dei is recited. Surrounding Him are red six-winged seraphim and blue four-winged cherubim. Filling the space outside this central group are the winged beasts representing the four Evangelists.

The Blessed Virgin and John the Baptist, who flank Christ in traditional Deësis and Last Judgment pictures, are in the side borders. The Blessed Virgin stands on a crescent moon and has twelve stars in her halo.

Christ stands atop a T-O map of the world [typus orbis terrarum], indicating His sovereignty over the entire world. The map’s divisions represent the three continents known to medieval Christians: Asia is at the top, identified by Noah’s Ark atop Mount Ararat, a bactrian camel, and an oriental temple; Europe is identified by a Gothic cathedral and a moose; Africa by a giraffe and Egyptian pyramids. These continents correspond to the three Magi, who are depicted in the borders: according to tradition, Caspar was Asian, Melchior European, and Balthazar African. Together, they represent all the ages and races of mankind.

In the upper border are Moses and Elijah, who appeared beside Christ at the Transfiguration and who respectively represent the law and the prophets. Emblems of the three theological virtues (a cross for faith, an anchor for hope, and a heart for charity) and the Alpha and Omega are also included.

In the bottom left corner, within a quatrefoil, is an image of the Lamb of God. The other three corner spaces contain the words Ecce Agnus Dei in stylized letters, surrounded by a millefleur pattern.

Fifteenth-century panel paintings, tapestries, and prints influenced this drawing. Artists whose work I studied when drawing it include Gerard David, Martin Schongauer, and Konrad Witz.

The original drawing included liturgical scenes specific to the Roman Pontifical, commissioned by Vox Clara in 2012. Vox Clara is a Vatican committee of senior bishops from episcopal conferences throughout the English-speaking world that advises the Holy See on English-language liturgy. I was commissioned to create a series of five color illustrations for this book, including this one of Christ the High Priest.

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Daniel Mitsui is a Catholic artist from Chicago and an editorial consultant for The Adoremus Bulletin. Visit his website: danielmitsui.com, for more information about his work or to purchase a print.

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