Byzantine Illuminator Mark the Evangelist from the Gospel of Mark



Originally from a Byzantine manuscript containing the Four Gospels, this miniature once prefaced the Gospel of Mark and portrays the Evangelist copying a text from an open volume placed on a lectern, which sits rather precariously atop a small desk cluttered with inkbottles. Mark is wrapped in a vibrant blue tunic, draped with a silver chlamys. He leans slightly forward in his seat, absorbed by his work, and rests his feet on a footstool. In the background, a square, tower-like building rises behind his chair suggesting a monastery or perhaps an urban local. The outlines of a second tower are visible behind the lectern but have not been painted. The text above the painting contains the forward to the Gospel of Mark along with the Gospel’s chapter listings according to the Cannon of Eusebius of Caesarea, which continue from the reverse of the leaf.

This miniature was created by an unknown painter in the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century to embellish a collection of the Gospels. The parent manuscript, identified by Georgi Parpulov, is now in the collection of the University of Chicago Library (Goodspeed Collection, MS 129). This twelfth-century volume was scribed by Nicholas of Edessa, identified by a colophon (192v–193r) in which he informs us that he completed the work on May 4, 1133 in the city of Edessa. The leaf’s original position is confirmed by the pencil foliation “61” in the upper right corner of the verso (the true recto), which corresponds to a gap in the foliation of the parent volume (see figs. 1–2). The Evangelist’s face may has been retouched, perhaps in the 1920s, to restore earlier damage. The drapery of his cloak and mantle, however, is very well preserved.  Its style suggests that the miniature was executed at the turn of the fourteenth century (see Spatharakis 1981, cat nos. 212, 216, 219).

Initially, this was one of four portraits of the Evangelists, all of which have been removed from the parent manuscript. A fifth miniature of the Virgin Mary with a suppliant identified by an inscription as “Our Lady of Mercy” ([Μ(ητὴ)ρ] Θ(εο)ῦ [ἡ Ἐ]λεοῦσα) is presently positioned at fol. 1v of the parent manuscript (fig. 3). The suppliant in this miniature is also identified by an inscription as her “unworthy servant the monk Lazarus” (ἐλέησόν με τὸν ἀνάξιον [δοῦ]λόν σου τὸν ὠ[ν]ομ[αζομέν]ον (sic) Λάζα[ρ]ον μο[ν]αχὸν […]άσιμ[ο]ν). The monk’s family name is unfortunately not fully legible, but the image likely represents a previous owner of the manuscript who commissioned the paintings.

In 1864 the parent volume was catalogued by Emmanuel Ioannides at the Metochion of the Holy Sepulchre, Istanbul, at which time it contained all five miniatures. When the manuscript was examined for a catalogue published in 1915 one of these had been removed, although the portrait of Mark was still in place (Papadopoulos-Kerameus 1915, pp. 291–92). The present leaf must have been removed (along with two others) before 1929 when the volume was acquired by the University of Chicago. Peter Kidd (2021) notes a barely visible collector’s mark in the lower right corner of the recto, recognizable as the ink stamp of the Strasburg collector and antiquarian Robert Forrer. Three of the remaining sister leaves, Kidd speculates, were also likely owned by Forrer but their present whereabouts remain unknown.

We are grateful to Georgi Parpulov for expertise.


Clark, Kenneth W. A Descriptive Catalogue of Greek New Testament Manuscripts in America, Chicago, 1937, pp. 231–33.

De Ricci, Seymour. Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada, New York, 1935, vol. 1 p. 568.

Ioannides, Emmanual. “Περί τινων Ευαγγελίων ἐπὶ μεμβράνης’,” ἐνΚωνσταντινουπόλειἙλληνικὸςφιλολογικὸςσύλλογος 2 (1864), pp. 60–64 [at 62–63], cat. 5.

Kidd, Peter. “A Byzantine Miniature on a Leaf from the Forrer Collection,” Medieval Manuscripts Provenance (Saturday March 6, 2021). Online Publication.

Papadopoulos-Kerameus, Athanasios. ἹεροσολυμιτικὴβιβλιοθήκηἤτοικατάλογοςτῶνἐνταῖςβιβλιοθήκαιςτοῦἁγιωτάτουἀποστολικοῦτεκαὶκαθολικοῦὀρθοδόξουπατριαρχικοῦθρόνουτῶνἹεροσολύμωνκαὶπάσηςΠαλαιστίνηςἀποκειμένωνἑλληνικῶνκωδίκων, Saint Petersburg, 1915, vol. 5 pp. 291–92.

Parvis, Merrill Mead. The Story of the Goodspeed Collection, Chicago, 1952, pp. 12–13.

For comparisons see:

Spatharakes, Ioannes. Corpus of Dated Illuminated Greek Manuscripts to the Year 1453, Leiden, 1981, cats. 212, 216, 219.

Digital Resources

University of Chicago Library, Goodspeed Collection, MS 129

MIN 50416

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