The Four Evangelists are the ones who wrote the four gospels in the New Testament, which is the second volume of the Bible. These gospels describe the life of Christ and are therefore in essence four times the same story but written by four different authors. The word “evangelist” comes from the Greek word εὐ-αγγέλιον (eu-angelion), which means “the good message”; εὔ = good, αγγέλιον = message. The word “angel” has the same origin and actually means “messenger”. The authors of these 4 gospel-books are the Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
The Four Evangelists are mostly depicted separately, but here is a 1625 painting by Jacob Jordaens in which they form a group. It’s clearly a group of four wise men, writing books. And therefore these can immediately be identified as the Four Evangelists. Identifying the individual evangelists is the next step. Each of them has his own symbol, and that’ the easy way to recognize them. That can be seen on the painting (c. 1614) by the Utrecht painter Abraham Bloemaert. Luke’s symbol is the ox, Mark has a lion, John his eagle, and for Matthew it’s an angel. It’s still the group of the Four Evangelists, together in one painting. But in most cases they are depicted in individual pictures, and as there are four of them, it’s excellent for series of four paintings, prints and even sculptures. Look for the ox, lion, eagle or angel and you know who is who.
Here are two Dutch Old Master prints from a series of the Four Evangelists. It’s Saint Matthew with the angel, and Saint John with the eagle. And both of them are receiving holy and spiritual inspiration for writing their gospel: the Gospel according to Matthew and the Gospel according to John. Prints from 1606 by Crispijn van de Passe after paintings by Gortzius Geldorp, 42x30cm, Engraving on Paper, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.