Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Four Stained-Glass Windows: Can You Identify Which Evangelist is Which?

A reader sent to me these photographs of four stained-glass windows from his church. He says they are of the four Evangelists, but can find no information as to which one is which. I had a look and couldn’t be sure either, so I thought I’d put the question out to you. Can you identify, giving reasons, which of these windows corresponds to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?

North windows
South windows
Each window was made at the Munich Studios in Chicago and installed in 1915. There is a set of twelve windows and eight of them are clearly identifiable as Apostles. These have no name attached to them nor any other clear identifying symbols or attributes that I can recognize. 
The first point I would make is that this demonstrates why, going back to the 9th century, it was an accepted practice that all images worthy of veneration should have both a clearly identifiable name (written in a language that would be understood those who see it) and have all the accepted attributes of the person. It was an Eastern theologian called Theodore the Studite who articulated these necessary conditions, based upon the criterion that we need to know a person. Here we see a very practical fallout of the neglect of this principle.
So here is the request: can anyone out there send me photographs of images that were made around the turn of the last century and are in this style, and which might indicate, therefore, the intentions of this artist? The ideal proof would be a similar set of stained-glass windows from the same studio in which each figure is clearly named.
We can speculate based upon what we see, but this is difficult. For example, there is a suggestion that because John is often portrayed as a young, clean-shaven man in Gospel scenes, the figure on the right in the north window is St John the Evangelist. 
This seems reasonable at first sight, it is common in the Western tradition in the last 500 years at least. Here are paintings of the four Evangelists by the 17th century Italian artist Guido Reni. This doesn’t help us identify the others very much. Perhaps we might say that if we knew that the Chicago artist was following the Reni schema that the left, south window is St Luke.

Matthew, left, and Mark, by Guido Reni
Luke, left, and John, by Guido Reni
However, we should bear in mind that even the portrayal of John in these cases doesn’t fit with the general portrayal of him in pictures, such as these which show the individual and which are more suited to the purpose of the veneration of the saint. According to the traditional iconographic prototype, he would be portrayed at a time closer to the end of his long life, and so we see him as an old man who is bald, with a long beard grey beard. The others would be portrayed as follows; Matthew has a full head of grey hair and a long beard, Mark has short dark curly hair, and Luke has a trimmed beard and short hair. A typical set of icons of the Evangelists is shown below. We know the artist’s intentions here because he has clearly written the names on the paintings.

For comparison, I show a Carolingian (Western) image of the four Evangelists dating from the 9th century.

As we can see, this gives us two unshaven Apostles. Even then we can’t be sure who is who, because again there are no identifying names. We might say that we can identify them by the symbols of cherubim faces that appear like those of a man, lion, ox, eagle in the vision of Ezekiel. So starting top left and working clockwise these figures are St Matthew (man/angel), St John (eagle), St Luke (ox), and St Mark (lion). So this would make St Luke and St Mark clean-shaven. However, this is assuming that the Carolingian artist used St Jerome’s interpretation of the symbolism in Scripture, which might not be the case. There are other interpretations and St Augustine is an example of one prominent figure who had a different arrangement of the symbols of the four evangelists.
If no good information is forthcoming, then this would be my approach in moving forward from here. I would go with the idea that John is clean-shaven which is the most common attribute used today in the West. I would then assign a name to the others somewhat arbitrarily. If we can’t tell who they are, then it really doesn’t matter at this point. In doing so, I might follow a progression that allows people to see them in the order that they appear as authors in the New Testament - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. If I have understood the positioning correctly, then that would make Matthew left and Mark right on the south window; and Luke left and John right on the north window. Then, and this is important, I would add underneath a nicely produced plaque or additional piece of artwork, in which both the name and accepted symbols for each evangelist was included, in order to make it clear to all who enter the church who is who. Then, by the theology of Theodore the Studite, they are worthy of veneration.
Some might argue that we name them in the order that they completed their Gospels. The problem with this is that it is a moving target. For example, my understanding is that the scholarship that suggested that Mark was the earliest Gospel, which came from 19th-century textual criticism, is being revised. Lawrence Feingold’s excellent book on fundamental theology, Faith Comes From What is Heard, explains how scholarship is now supporting the traditional view that the four Gospels were written in the order that they appear in the New Testament. If you stick with the schema of tradition, I suggest, then regardless of where the scholarship moves in the future, or where it stood in 1915 when the windows were installed, you will be on firm ground in using them to support your worship.

If I were asked as an artist to paint four originals, even in a naturalistic baroque style, I wouldn’t do them like this in the first place. In fact, I would make the characteristics consistent with those of the iconographic tradition.

So, who are they? Over to you!

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: