Saturday, July 18, 2009

St. Matthew

Title: St. Matthew
Artist: Unknown
Medium: Ink and tempera on vellum
Size: 26 x 14.9 cm
Date: c. 816-41
Location: Bibliothéque Municipale, Épernay.

St. Matthew, the son of Alpheus (Mark 2:13-17) was a Galilean, although Eusebius informs us that he was from Syria. A tax-gatherer at Capernaum, he collected custom duties for Herod Antipas, and, although a Jew, was despised by his own kind who hated all publicans. When summoned by Jesus, Matthew arose and followed, and tendered him a feast in his house where Christ and His disciples sat with tax-gatherers and sinners. This drew forth a protest from the Pharisees whom Jesus rebuked: "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners".

The Ebbo Gospels is an early Carolingian illuminated Gospel book known for an unusual, energetic style of illustration. The book was produced in the ninth century at the Benedictine abbey of Hautvillers, near Reims, France. The illustration style has its roots in late classical painting as demonstrated by the illusionistic style of the background landscapes. Greek artists fleeing the Byzantine iconoclasm of the 8th century brought this style to Aachen and Reims. The vibrant emotionalism, however, was new to Carolingian art and also distinguishes the Ebbo Gospels from classical art. Figures in the Ebbo Gospels are represented in nervous, agitated poses, the illustration using an energetic, streaky style with swift brush strokes. The style directly influenced manuscript illumination for decades.

St. Matthew the evangelist is traditionally depicted sitting at his desk, writing his gospel with an angel either guiding his hand or holding the inkwell. The Ebbo Gospels, however, render St. Matthew as the primary focus, furiously writing and holding his own inkwell, his angelic assistant in the distant background to the upper right of the image.

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