Gilt copper and glass; Mark (left): h. 6 7/8 in. (17.4 cm), Luke (right): h. 6/2 in. (16.5 cm)
Purchase, The Cloisters Collection, Michel David–Weill Gift, and Gifts of J. Pierpont Morgan and George Blumenthal, by exchange, 2012 (2010.70.1, 2)
In these masterfully sculptural images, Saint Mark and Saint Luke are poised at their desks. So intent is their focus, and so dignified their posture, that they appear at once heroic and divinely inspired. Surprisingly, the words they pen are not their gospel texts but extraordinary messages rooted in medieval theology. Saint Mark writes: "CHRISTUM DEUS TUMULO SUSCITAT ISTE LEO" (God raised Christ from the tomb in the manner of the Lion), linking Christian belief in the Resurrection of Jesus to the medieval legend that the lion breathes life into stillborn cubs three days after their birth. Saint Luke’s words address the divine nature of his own task: "IURA SACERDOTIS HIC NOTAT ORE BOVIS" (This one writes sacred law through the mouth of the ox); thus the beast conventionally linked to the saint serves as the medium of inspiration.
These figures likely come from the high altar of the abbey of Grandmont, near Limoges. The altar was described in glowing terms in the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, long after the fashion for medieval works had passed. When the abbey was destroyed in 1791 a smelter purchased all the "old copper." A few fine pieces were spared—among them, it seems, these Evangelists.