Gospel Book (MS M.860)


Inviting to his court the best scholars throughout Europe, Emperor Charlemagne (ca. 748–814) attempted to reform and standardize writing itself, which varied widely across the empire. Scribes working at important monastic centers like St. Martin at Tours developed new styles of script modeled on those of the ancient Romans. In this manuscript from Tours, the title page (at left) announces the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel. Written on bands of imperial purple, the golden capitals recall stone-carved inscriptions of ancient Rome. At right, Matthew’s Gospel begins with Liber generationis (Book of the generation of Jesus Christ). Here, the scribe combines Roman letterforms with nonclassical interlace ornaments, transforming sacred words into a work of art.

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Gospel Book, in Latin
France, Tours, ca. 857–62
The Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.860, fols. 14v–15r
Purchased with the Assistance of the Fellows, 1952