The Golden Canon Tables were created in Constantinople and date from the 6th or 7th century. They are precious evidence of the level of artistic skill in Byzantium before the Iconoclastic period (726-842 CE), when religious images were destroyed on a large scale. Although only fragmentary, enough remains of them to get a sense of the lavish scale of the original manuscript of which they must have formed part.
The canon tables are written on gold paint in this manuscript. Elaborate floral decoration adorns the tables, as do the portraits of four men, three of whom have halos. It has been suggested that there were originally twelve portraits in total, corresponding to the twelve Apostles.
Canon tables were used in Gospel manuscripts to identify parallel passages between the four Gospels.
When they were acquired by the British Museum, the Golden Canon Tables were inserted into a 12-century manuscript of the four Gospels. This manuscript, in two volumes, was formerly owned by Anthony Askew (1722-1774). The British Museum purchased it at Askew’s sale in 1785.