Evangelists, Iconography of

views updated


The Evangelists, as a tetrad, are frequently represented in Christian art, especially in manuscript illumination. They appear in human form or in symbolic guise.

When represented as human figures, the Evangelists are either standing or seated and engaged in composition of the Gospels. Both types were developed from classical figures of philosophers or writers; they were introduced by Christian artists during the 2nd or 3rd century. The seated figure in the posture of meditation is the closest to the classical prototype (Stauronikita cod. 43). Several early Christian sarcophagi contain the first representations of the Evangelists as human figures (sarcophagus of Concordius, Arles). In manuscripts they are usually represented in fullpage miniature or as standing portraits, which can sometimes be inserted between text columns. Byzantine artists developed the portrait seen in profile view, while in the West the frontal type was preserved from the classical period. The mosaics in S. Vitale in Ravenna show the Evangelists, each with a codex, in a landscape background. The ivory chair of St. Maximian (Ravenna, 6th century) preserves an excellent example of the early standing portraits; the Evangelists are presented in threequarter frontal poses, each holding a Gospel Book inscribed with a cross. In the Middle Ages they were represented in typological association with the four great Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel (south transept window, Chartres Cathedral). They were associated in the late medieval period with the four Latin Doctors of the Church: Jerome, Augustine, Ambrose, and Gregory.

The symbolization of the Evangelists by four winged creatures is derived from the vision of Ezekiel and Revelation (4.68). To Matthew was assigned the human figure;

to Mark, the lion; to Luke, the ox; and to John, the eagle. The Evangelists were assigned their symbols on the basis of the opening passages of each one's Gospel: the man to Matthew, since he narrates the genealogy and birth of Christ; the lion to Mark, because he begins dramatically with the vox clamantis in deserto (like the sound of the king of beasts); the calf to Luke, because he describes the sacrifice of Zachary; and the eagle to John, since he commences with the preexistence of the Logos in heaven. The symbolic tetrad stands also for different phases in the life of Christ: the man of Matthew, for the Incarnation; the lion of Mark, for the Resurrection (the medieval lion roared its stillborn cubs to life); the calf of Luke, for the sacrificial death on the cross; and the eagle of John, for the Ascension. These symbols often are represented in apocalyptic scenes like the Majestas Domini (mosaics of S. Pudenziana, Rome), as well as Ascensions (Rabbula Codex). A hybrid formation of the Evangelists wearing the heads of their symbols is found chiefly in the

art of southern France and Spain (Sacramentary of Gellone, 11th century).

Bibliography: f. x. kraus, RealEncyklopädie der christlichen Alterthümer, v.1 (Freiburg 1882) 458463. h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. f. cabrol, h. leclercq, and h. i. marrou, 15 v. (Paris 190753) 5:845852. a.m. friend, "Portraits of the Evangelists in the Greek and Latin Manuscripts," Art Studies (192729). f. van der meer, Majestas Domini (Paris 1938). l. rÉau, Iconographie de l'art chrétien, 6 v. (Paris 195559) 3.1:476480.

[s. tsuji]

About this article

Evangelists, Iconography of

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article