An Anglo-Saxon Portrait of St Luke, in an Irish Pocket Gospels
Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum
This small copy of the gospels comes from Ireland and is an example of the 'pocket gospels' made there in the early Middle Ages. While their use is not fully known now, markings in them, texts added to them, and the importance of gospelbooks in the lives of saints such as Columba indicate that they had multiple uses in personal devotion as well as in pastoral care. Books of scripture, especially gospels and psalters, were considered to have powers of healing and protection. By the 10th century, this pocket gospels had ended up in southern England, possibly Canterbury, where it was 'updated' with pictures in the latest style and its decorated initial letters scraped off and painted over with ones in a new style.
A portrait of the evangelist Luke is one of the later pictures, painted on a separate leaf and inserted into the book. He is shown in the act of writing and above him hovers his symbol, the calf, shown as a bust with human shoulders and animal head. Its style differs totally from that of the original Irish St Luke miniature. Instead of the icon-like lone frontal figure, the late Anglo-Saxon evangelist sits upon a three-dimensional bench with footstool, a mass of drapery suspended across the frame above. The frame's deep colours and three-dimensional classical ornament of animal heads, acanthus and vinescroll, as well as the image within, show the style that was being adopted from Continental sources in this period of monastic reforms and theological renovation.