Symbol of Saint Matthew, from the Book of Durrow. ca. 680 CE. Tempera on vellum, 24.7 x 15.7 cm. Trinity College, Dublin
This illustration shows how ornamental pattern can animate a figure even while accentuating its surface decoration. The body of the figure, composed of framed sections of checkerboard pattern, recalls the ornamental quality of the Sutton Hoo clasps. The addition of a head, which confronts us directly, and feet turned to the side, transform the decorative motifs into a human figure. Active, elaborate patterns, previously seen in metalwork, are here employed to demonstrate that St Matthew’s message is precious. Irish scribes and artists were revered for their abilities and achievements. A medieval account relates how, after his death, an Irish scribe’s talented hands were preserved as relics capable of performing miracles.