The Gospel Book of Durrow vs. The Coronation Gospels

Categories: Visual Arts

Compare and contrast the St. Matthew page from the Gospel Book of Durrow with the St. Matthew page from the Coronation Gospels. What does this comparison demonstrate about the cultural and artistic influences exchanged in Europe? Do these images reveal ties to earlier cultures? Provide both context and formal analysis in the course of your answer while considering the production techniques required to create illuminated manuscripts. The Gospel of Matthew was written in various cultures’ books, it would be introduced in a different approach depending on the time period and influences from the cultures tradition.

Saint Matthew was an evangelist that was one of the four books that tells the story of Jesus. The early Book of Durrow introduced the Gospel of Matthew with an abstract drawing of a man, while the Coronation Gospels illustrated the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew with color and modulation of light and shade, not lines, to create shapes.

1 Around the second half of the 7th century The Gospel of Matthew was written in the Book of Durrow.

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The book’s layout follows the Roman Christian models, but the paintings inside are influenced by the Hiberno-Saxon design. The Gospel of Matthew is followed by a page with his symbol, the man. The design of the man is far off of what the man would have been constructed like in the Greco-Roman culture. It contrasts with classical art forms with the simple lines illustrating the face, hair, torso, and feet.

The symbol of the man has an armless, abstract bell shaped body with a head and two tiny feet.

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This image was not drawn to be an exact representation of a man; instead it was made to be recognized as the symbol of a man. The head on top of the curved shoulders is perfectly symmetrical and the eyes are locked at a constant stare at the reader. The body is created by a checkered, abstract pattern which disguises the figure and features the metalwork of the area and period. A similar checkered pattern is also found in the rectangular panels of the Sutton Hoo clasp, which was created from the Anglo-Saxon culture. The Coronation Gospels were finished in the early 9th century with the portrait of St. Matthew differing greatly from the Book of Durrow’s version. The picture integrates the principles of idealized, life like representation quite consistent with the Greco-Roman culture.

2 This figure is shown modeled in a white flowing Roman robe in profile sitting before a tilted writing desk. The illusionistic brushwork denotes the bulky drapery folds that are wrapped around the body.

3 Behind his head is a large golden circle that could either qualify as a large halo or a sunset in the distance. His left foot is slightly lifted and is resting on the base of the writing desk which highlights that this artwork is three dimensional. The artists used lighting, shading, and perspective to aid him in creating the illusion of the three dimensional form. The frame of this portrait embellishes the Classical effect of a view seen through a window. The frame also contains the kind of acanthus leaves that are found in Roman temple capitals and friezes. The crosse legged chair, toga, and lectern of Saint Matthew are also similar Roman ornaments. No one of the Hiberno-Saxon culture was artistically advanced enough to match this portrayal of Saint Matthew; this Carolingian artist had fully absorbed the classical art manner.

4 The symbol of Saint Matthew is different in some way in every culture that had him in their Gospel book. His symbol of the man was created in each culture based on the time period and culture influences. The Hiberno-Saxon culture portrayed Saint Matthew as a man, but only included basic human parts and didn’t use any types of Roman art techniques to make the picture life like. On the other hand, The Carolingian culture used more advanced techniques like color, lighting effects, and shade to create a more realistic Saint Matthew. .


  1. Lane, Jim. Humanities Web, "St. Matthew in Early Art." Last modified May 12, 1998. Accessed May 2, 2012. Surfer, John. Hub Pages, "Hiberno-Saxon Art in a Nutshell." Accessed May 2, 2012.
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The Gospel Book of Durrow vs. The Coronation Gospels. (2016, Apr 24). Retrieved from

The Gospel Book of Durrow vs. The Coronation Gospels
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