Ch. 11, Note 83: Evangelist Portraits: East, West


In the sixth-century Syriac Rabbula Gospels, portraits of the evangelists Matthew and John are located within the canon tables.

Portrait of Matthew, with his heavenly symbol, from the Lindisfarne Gospels (early 8th century, Northumbria). The figure appearing from behind the curtain is probably one of the “Hebrews” for whom Matthew is supposed to have written, and the small book he holds may be the Liber generationis of Matthew 1.1-18, often presented in insular gospel codices as a separate composition.

Portrait of John with his symbol (Lindisfarne Gospels). Unlike Matthew, this evangelist has completed his gospel and gestures towards its opening: In principio erat Verbum… The Greek ho hagios implies that the portrait has an original Greek exemplar mediated through a gospel book from Italy.


Evangelist symbols from the Book of Kells (c.800, Iona/Ireland).

In the Augustine Gospels, Luke is portrayed as seated beneath a winged calf;’ to left and right are scenes from his gospel. This Italian codex probably arrived in Kent in the early 7th century.

In the 6th-century Rossano Gospels, Mark writes his Gospel against an Alexandrian backdrop, inspired by a female figure who may represent the Holy Spirit. The lion-symbol is absent here, as from most eastern evangelist portraits.