Gospel Evangelist Portraits: Exemplars of an Enduring Christian Motif


  • James W. Ellis Hong Kong Baptist University




Author Portrait, Gospel Evangelist, Illuminated Manuscript, Martyrdom, Apocalypse


The Bible’s Gospel books offer accounts of the life of Jesus Christ and consequently they have been considered among the most important texts from antiquity onward. This essay uses iconographic methodology and historical contextualization to analyze a selective group of portraits and depictions of the Bible’s four Gospel Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Art historical literature has addressed Evangelist portraits, but has tended to focus on formal characteristics. This essay presents these visual relics in new contexts. The chosen Evangelist portraits come from a variety of sources: thousand-year-old Byzantine lectionaries, medieval illuminated manuscripts produced in the scriptoria of the Abbeys of Cluney and Helmarshausen, and Italian and French missals and books of hours. The essay also examines Northern Renaissance and Symbolist print cycles portraying the martyrdom of the Evangelist John and visions he described in his Apocalypse, or book of Revelation. This brief examination of select exemplars demonstrates the enduring significance of Evangelist portraits in Christian iconography and western art history, and suggests the variety of messages Evangelist portraits can convey. This essay’s findings and conclusions may lead to further, related research concerning the ways theologians and artists have used biblical portraits to comment both on religious and secular issues.

Author Biography

  • James W. Ellis, Hong Kong Baptist University
    James W. Ellis is Research Assistant Professor at the Academy of Visual Arts, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong. email: jellis@yu.edu.


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