I was re-reading parts of What Jesus Meant by Garry Wills this morning and came upon this:
"Early poems and plays (especially in medieval treatments of it under the title of "the Harrowing of Hell"), along with endless paintings afterwards, show Jesus breaking open the prison of the past to free those not previously vindicated by his blood. The normal depiction highlights the emergence, first, of Adam and Eve. Some pictures show him accompanied by the bandit who died with him. The comprehensiveness of God's salvic plan is emphasized––how
Through black clouds the black sheep runs,
And through black clouds the Shepherd follows him.
Though most depictions give the starring roles in this event to Adam and Eve, I believe the Shepherd was first seeking out his special lost one, Judas."
The next thing I did was open this morning's New York Times, and saw this:
In the painting, note the Hinges of Hell on either side of Christ's legs. Grace Dane Mazur presented an excellent paper on this topic (as metaphor and on its use in fiction) at a Warren Wilson MFA Program Alumni Conference several years back.