The Four Evangelists

The Four Evangelists – Belser Verlag – Urbinas Latinus 10 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, State of the Vatican City)

Ferrara (Italy) β€” Around 1474

From uneducated mercenary to generous patron of the arts: the perfectly executed Renaissance portraits of the Four Evangelists from a gospel book for the successful condottiere and Duke of Urbino Federico da Montefeltro

  1. Federico da Montefeltro (1422–82) was one of the most famous rulers of 15th century Italy

  2. The Duke of Urbino commissioned some of the finest manuscripts of the Italian Renaissance

  3. These four Evangelist portraits are Quattrocento masterpieces presented in passe-partouts

The Four Evangelists

Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €
(under 1,000€)
  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
The Four Evangelists

This single-page collection presents four of the most stunning Evangelist portraits probably ever created. They derive from the splendid Gospels of the Duke of Urbino, Federico da Montefeltro (1422–82), which is preserved in the Vatican Library under the shelfmark Urbinas Latinus 10. The precious manuscript was produced around 1474 either in Ferrara or Urbino by order of the famous condottiere, who was known for his spectacular rise and military skill, but also as a great patron of the arts and a just lord who ruled according to humanistic principles. The four large-scale and gold-decorated Evangelist images of his Gospel Book represent a highlight of his rich art collection, and are notable for their realistic depiction of the body and their breathtaking coloring. The four Evangelists are set in wide, fantastical landscapes against brilliant blue skies, while the pages are enclosed by beautiful decorated framings.

The Four Evangelists

The Book of Gospels that once belonged to the Duke of Urbino is a masterfully executed but practical religious text with dΓ©cor limited to canon tables, the opening page of the prologue of St. Jerome featuring an elaborate frame and a historiated initial of the famous ascetic and Church Father, numerous smaller colored initials, and four incipit pages across from which these masterful Evangelist portraits appear. Artistically, these are the β€œmeat” of the manuscript and are outstanding specimens of this ancient tradition of Christian art that exhibit the technical innovations of the Italian Renaissance. These four Evangelist portraits are richly colored and highlighted with gold, presented in artful frames, and depict the authors of the Gospels with natural body postures, facial expressions, and garment fall of folds. Some feature elaborate landscapes in the background while all are presented with their Evangelist symbols, artful initials and opening lines of text written so neatly they appear printed.

Evolution of the Evangelist Portrait

Evangelist portraits are among the oldest images in Christian art and originated from the classical tradition of author portraits and the conventions of consular portraits from Late Antiquity. Evangelist portraits modelled on the latter show the author holding their Gospel but not writing it, front-facing, enthroned, and surrounded by an elaborate, often architectural frame. The Insular tradition of illumination introduced the variation of showing them seated at an oblique angle and engaged in writing their respective Gospels as well as pairing the Evangelists with their symbols: the Lion of Mark, the Eagle of John, the Ox or Calf of Luke and the Angel or Man of Matthew. In some cases, these symbols were depicted as though they were giving dictation.

The Light of Italy

Federico da Montefeltro (1422–82) was a shining example of what it meant to be a Renaissance prince: a successful military leader, generous patron of the arts, and liberal ruler who was guided by humanist principles in administering justice to his people. He patronized important authors like Cristoforo Landino (1424–98) and supported the development of talented artists including a young Raphael (1483–1520). Furthermore, Federico had a private scriptorium where he employed the most talented copyists who produced the most comprehensive library outside of the Vatican. All of this was not merely for show and Federico commissioned a studiolo – a small study or cabinet for contemplation – to be built in his palaces at Urbino and Gubbio. Both survive today: the former is still in Urbino while the latter was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, shipped to New York City, and reassembled piece-by-piece. For all this and more, Federico is has been nicknamed β€œthe Light of Italy”.


Alternative Titles
Gospels of the Duke of Urbino: Federigo da Montefeltro
Size / Format
4 single leaves / 26.0 Γ— 40.5 cm
Around 1474
4 full-page miniatures
Four portraits of evangelists from the Gospels of Federico da Montefeltro
Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino (1448–82)

Available facsimile editions:
The Four Evangelists – Belser Verlag – Urbinas Latinus 10 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, State of the Vatican City)
Belser Verlag – Stuttgart, 2018
Limited Edition: 599 copies
Detail Picture

The Four Evangelists

Matthew the Evangelist

Wrapped in a blue robe, Matthew is shown rubbing his chin in contemplation with one hand and holding a quill in the other as he writes his Gospel. Meanwhile, his symbol, an angel, holds up a hand with his index finger extended as though he were about to make a suggestion. Both figures are adorned with shimmering gold halos that are not flat but appear tilted and three-dimensional instead. An inkwell and a container holding more quills and a knife is depicted at the saint’s feet.

The Four Evangelists – Belser Verlag – Urbinas Latinus 10 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, State of the Vatican City)
Single Page

The Four Evangelists

John the Evangelist

According to tradition, John the Evangelist spent the last years of his life in exile on the island of Patmos, where he wrote the Book of Revelation. Although most modern scholars believe it was written by a different John, he is nonetheless depicted writing on an island, above which appears seven lampstands representing the seven churches of Asia.

John sits next his eagle, which is also the symbol of Urbino in combination with a blue and gold striped shield, both of which appear at the bottom of the page. Above them, a splendid β€œI” initial wrapped with golden tendrils introducing the incipit, which is written in gold ink. The letters FE and DUX appear on either side of the laurels hanging overhead, a reference to Duke Federico da Montefeltro.

The Four Evangelists – Belser Verlag – Urbinas Latinus 10 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, State of the Vatican City)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Die vier Evangelisten - Urbinas Latinus 10

Belser Verlag – Stuttgart, 2018

Publisher: Belser Verlag – Stuttgart, 2018
Limited Edition: 599 copies
Binding: Blue cloth slipcase
Commentary: 1 volume by Luigi Michelini Tocci and Gerd Betz
Language: German
1 volume: 4 leaves: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) The edition contains 4 leaves under passe-partouts. Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €
(under 1,000€)
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