Statua del Buon Pastore. from Catacomb of Domitilla. 3rd C. Rome. Vatican.
In the extant catacombs of Rome there appears scores of frescoes, and many sarcophagi, with the image of the Good Shepherd. Some are from the first century, it is the oldest motif in depicting Jesus. It is funereal. It is metaphorical. The lamb about the neck and shoulders of Christ, is the soul of the deceased. The shepherd bears the soul to paradise, the sheep about Jesus are the souls already there. Note Jesus is beardless in early Rome.
These survivals, from the pre-toleration times of the empire, prove a christian iconography from almost ab ovo. They also run counter to the iconoclasm heresy of centuries later in the east, and a millennium later in the west. In all three years of the new liturgical cycle, to-day, the 4th Sunday of Easter, is Good Shepherd Sunday
The images [Good Shepherd] gave comfort, and taught the faith. The Montessorians, Sofia Cavalletti, and Gianna Gobbi, believed this seminal image spoke intuitively to the child. Jesus cares, and nurtures, and protects the small and young. They developed a programme, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, to teach the young, the faith.