Animals in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Illustrations from the Middle Ages

The Book of Kells, Facsimile of Trinity College Library MS A. I. (58) (c. 800 AD)

1920. London, New York: “The Studio” ltd.

11.5 in. x 9.5 in.


Rare Books Collection, Special & Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries


A masterwork of Western calligraphy, The Book of Kells is Ireland’s national treasure. This illuminated manuscript containing the four Gospels in Latin, based on the Vulgate of St. Jerome, was created in a Columban monastery in around 800 CE. Today it is recognized the world over for the commanding beauty of its insular art, characterized by intricate symmetrical knotwork and interlacings, and the rich, complementary tones of color.


One of the most popularly reproduced images from The Book of Kells is Folio 27v, which contains the symbols of the four Evangelists in framed panels around a cross. Each symbol looks symmetrical in its design and color. The symbols, the angel, lion, ox and eagle, all have comparable halos and wings; the two top figures look in and the two lower figures look outwards. In the corner boxes at the top right and lower left, peacocks feed upon coiled vines emerging from a sacramental cup. Figures are intertwined in the corresponding corners of the top left and lower right of the frame, and serpentine forms twist and undulate to form regular, repeated patterns in the four square boxes at the outer edges of the cross.


This facsimile copy was first commissioned by Sir Edward Sullivan, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, in 1914. Sullivan was a great book collector and owned the most valuable private library in the country. Today the plates in Sullivan’s edition look like fairly primitive reproductions: the lines are indistinct, and the colors are faded and do not reflect the brilliance of the original.

Das Goldene Evangelienbuch von Echternach: Codex Aureus Epternacensis, Facsimile of HS 156142 as dem Germanischen Nationalmuseum Nurnberg (11th Century)

1982. Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer Verlag

18 in. x 12.5 in.

ND3359.E18B58 1982

Rare Books Collection, Special & Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries


The Codex aureus Epternacensis is an illuminated book of the Gospels that was produced in the Abbey of Echternach in the 11th century. It is now housed in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg. The manuscript comprises the Vulgate versions of the four gospels and provides an important example of Ottonian illumination (pre-romanesque German art). This style is easily recognizable for its grandeur and monumentalism with strong Byzantine influences. The manuscript comprises 136 folios with 16 full-page miniatures and five pages devoted to portraits of the Evangelists; the text is written entirely in gold ink.


Displayed here in this sumptuous facsimile is a portrait of Luke, author of the third Gospel, together with his symbolic beast: the winged bull or ox. The Evangelists are often represented by four symbolic winged animals based on the creatures drawing the throne-chariot of God in the Book of Ezekiel. The appearance of these four symbolic beasts (an angel, lion, ox and eagle) in medieval depictions of the Evangelists have been lent various interpretations, including the idea that these animals represent the highest forms of beast: Matthew’s winged man is viewed as a reflection of the Creator; Mark’s lion is the king of the beasts; John’s eagle is sovereign of the birds, and Luke’s ox is chief of the domesticated animals. The ox is also a symbol of sacrifice, service and strength.