The Coronation and Ebbo Gospels

The Ebbo Gospel is an illuminated manuscript that was written and illuminated at a scriptorium at Hautvillers monastery in France for the Archbishop Ebbo of Rheims, an important person in the spread of Christianity throughout Europe.  It is done in a Carolingian style, which literally just means that it was an artwork created under the reign of Charlemagne.  However, it differs greatly from other images done during the same time period, even other images from illuminated manuscripts done at the same time.  The style it embraces is called “the shivering style” because the figures in the miniature paintings appear to shiver with a “passion filled religious fervor.”

St Matthew: Ebbo Gospel

St Matthew: Ebbo Gospel

One of the most famous images from the Ebbo Gospels is a painting done of St Matthew.  He is pictured as a scribe, with a quill in one hand and an ink horn in the other, writing in a book outside.  A tiny angel, the symbol for St Matthew, is pictured in the upper right hand corner, watching over him as he works.  It is the perfect example of the shivering style, for the brush strokes are wild with a frenzied passion.  The image is very active and appears to almost vibrate off the page.  However, this is not the only interesting thing about the image.  Some of the colors, particularly the greens and pinks were new for their time, and we know that a wealthy patron had this commissioned because there is gold leaf streaked throughout.

St Matthew: Coronation Gospel

St Matthew: Coronation Gospel

A very different image of St Matthew can be seen in the Coronation Gospels.  However, it is not the content, or even the layout of the image that makes it so drastically different, it is simply the style.  This version of St. Matthew is from the same era, but is done in a much more classical style.  The strokes are much softer and blended, making for a more relaxing image.

A coronation gospel is traditionally, an illuminated manuscript on present at every coronation of the Roman kings, on which the gospel oath was sworn.  They were bound with a fully 3D relief cover of gold and covered with glittering precious stones, befitting a king.  God is depicted in the center with the Virgin Mary on the side.  The symbols of the four evangelists are on each corner.  The gospels were written and illuminated in Aachen around 795 AD.  The script was written with golden ink on purple pages, which shows the importance and gives you an idea of the cost of the book.  Gold, in itself, has always been a luxery, but historically, purple was the color of royalty because it was so expensive to make.  The color could only be made with tens of thousands of ground up shells from a certain variety of snail.

The Coronation Gospel Cover

The Coronation Gospel Cover

Included below is a really great video of some Art Historians talking about the highlights of the painting of St Matthew from the Ebbo Gospel.  They do some comparison between Matthew of the Ebbo Gospel and Matthew of the Coronation Gospel as well.  It is well worth listening to.

I have also included below paintings of the other three evangelists from the Ebbo Gospel.  As I was researching these illuminated manuscripts, I quickly realized that the picture of St Matthew was much more famous than the pictures of Mark, Luke, or John.  I am not entirely sure why this is, and nothing I found told me what made St Matthew so much more intriguing.  Possibly, St Matthews painting is more vivid and vibrant than the others.  Possibly the story behind the patron Saint is more interesting and famous.

Mark: Ebbo Gospels

Mark: Ebbo Gospels

Luke: Ebbo Gospels

Luke: Ebbo Gospels

John: Ebbo Gospels

John: Ebbo Gospels

Below is a study I did of the little angel that watches over St Matthew in the picture of St Matthew from the Ebbo Gospels.  In doing this study, I was actually really surprised with what I found.  If you zoom in on the image, it looks like it would be fairly simple to sketch, but there is so much more detail than one might think.  I used a pencil and a technical pen to sketch this image.  Both have very fine points.  Upon closer examination, you can tell that the image was done with a pen that had a flat tip, much like a calligraphy pen.  It is almost impossible to duplicate the strokes, the messy urgency, the vibrant feeling, without a pen of the same sort.  The hardest part was the end of the strokes.  If you look closely at the original image, you can see that the end of every line has a little corner that is turned up or some kind of nub on it.  It is that reason that it is so hard to duplicate.  The other thing I learned from doing this study, is that they did not need to use very many lines in order to communicate to the viewer that this was an angel, the symbol of St Matthew.  There were not very many hard lines that one would use to form the outline of what they were drawing.  However, there were many other strokes and colors, other than the ones that I have included, used in this image.  All of them were messy and vibrant, keeping with the style of the rest of the painting.

St Matthew's Angel

St Matthew’s Angel



7 thoughts on “The Coronation and Ebbo Gospels

  1. I find the Carolingian style so interesting – I love the description of how it “shivers” because the artists are filled with religious fervor. It makes the paintings look alive, and instills an energy in the figures that I think can be hard to attain otherwise.
    Also, how on earth do people discover things such as how to get a purple color from tens of thousands of snails? Sometimes it seems like people seek the most outlandish method to create something in order to make it more valuable. Of course, they did not have the luxury of going to the store and buying purple dye or paint. I suppose it makes me a little more grateful for the lengths people went to in order to bring more color into the world.

  2. I enjoyed reading about the Coronation and Ebbo Gospels. What stood out to me the most was the cover of the Coronation Gospel made out of gold. I was wondering if you knew how big the book/gospels were in size. Overall, it’s a beautiful and quite astonishing compilation.

  3. I stared at that cover for a good minute before continuing. It amazes me how people in the Medieval ages held so much respect for the Biblical scripts and strived to make them look as beautiful as the message inside. The depictions of the apostles seems a little different from most Medieval art I’ve seen; there’s more focus on contrast and pose and the quick brush strokes remind me of Expressionism; and I love the look of contemplation on their faces. Nice job on the angel drawing!

  4. Portrays of Sts from the Ebbo Gospel are very different form what I thought they suppose to be. From those stylistic brush strokes, I can feel the emotion of those artists. In addition, to see the attempt of 3D expression in it is a very interesting part for me to explore. Form the perspective of color, it is so amazing to see the richness and uniqueness of them, it even remind me of some oil pastils paintings from expressionism. By the way, good job on sketching, Esther!

  5. I really find the shivering style of painting intriguing. I enjoyed looking through the illustrations of the four Gospel writers. I also am curious why Matthew is the most famous image out of all of them. It seems like the others are just as worthy and maybe some more worthy of recognition as Matthew. There is a really great sense of animation in all of them and I specifically like the image of John and how the scroll leads your eyes across the page. I was also amazed to hear about how the color purple was made from crushing snails for the dye and that was why it was considered so expensive because it took so many snails to create it. I really enjoyed looking at your image of St. Matthew’s Angel. I love the bold contrast and calligraphic-like lines on the page.

  6. Really nice job Esther showing us a number of images of the book, and wow, the cover is lovely. I do find it curious that the image of John gets all of the attention, when all of the other images of the gospel writers are just as interesting. The frenetic nature of the images are really nice. I like the video and am glad you included it, it adds to your comments.

  7. I found the video that you posted very helpful! Thanks for sharing it with us! I find the perspective in the paintings interesting and I enjoyed hearing more about why the paintings may have been that way. I also liked hearing about the subtle symbolism that is found in the artwork as well. It makes me have to look twice to make sure I am not missing any of the story, and I like that because it keeps me engaged.

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