The Book of Kells Essay
During the dark ages the arts of bookmaking, illustration and manuscript illumination were preserved in remote Irish abbeys - The Book of Kells Essay introduction. A number of unique, exquisite books remain from this period, masterpieces of world art. This includes the ninth century Book of Kells, a manuscript of the Gospel richly illustrated with Celtic motifs and deep symbolism (sacred-texts. com). The Book of Kells, also lesser known as the Book of Columba, it was nicknamed that because it was written in the monastery of Iona to honor the saint. The Book of Kells is one of the most recognized and most remarkable artifacts of medieval Celtic art.
The book contains lavish, colorful lettering and illuminations. Many of the current Celtic art we see nowadays are based solely on the Book of Kells. According to tradition, the book is a relic from the time of Columba (d. 597) and even the work of his hands, but, on paleographic grounds and judging by the character of the ornamentation, this tradition cannot be sustained, and the date of the composition of the book can hardly be placed earlier than the end of the seventh or beginning of the eighth century (newadvent. com). The Book of Kells was produced in a monastery on the Isle of Iona, Scotland.
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It was written to honor Saint Columba in the early 8th century. However, after a Viking raid the book was moved to Kells, Ireland in the 9th century. It was stolen once again in the 11th century, at which time its cover was torn off and it was thrown into a ditch. The cover, which most likely included gold and gems, has never been found. The book suffered some water damage; but nonetheless was still exceedingly well-preserved. In 1541, at the height of the English Reformation, the book was taken once more by the Roman Catholic Church for safekeeping. It was only returned to Ireland in the 17th century.
Archbishop James Ussher gave it to Trinity College, Dublin. Trinity College is still home to the book today. The Book of Kells contains the complete text of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and John. The Gospel of John only goes through John 17:13. The remainder of John and an unknown amount of the beginning pages is missing. It was most likely lost when the book was stolen in the early eleventh century. The beginning pages consisted of two lists of the Hebrew names that are contained in the gospels, the Breves causae and the Argumenta of the four gospels, and the Eusebian canon tables. It is also highly probable that part
of the lost beginning pages might have included the letter of Jerome to Pope Damasus I. The letter was known as Novum opus, in which Jerome explains the purpose of his translation. It is also possible that the lost pages may have included the letter of Eusebius, known as Plures fuisse. The letter of Eusebius explains the use of the canon tables. The four gospels as located in the Book of Kells are based on the Vulgate. However, the Book of Kells is not a straight copy of the Vulgate, because they used some old Latin translations over Jerome’s text. Although, the translation changes in the text were very common in most gospels at the time.
The only problem was that most of the gospels did not use the same variations in the text. For many of the gospels they are thought to have been written primarily from memory rather than from the standard. Researchers have found to believe that there are three different writers to have written the Book of Kells. However, medieval artists were known to use themselves as models on occasion. One scholar has even theorized that the nine apostles, who are depicted on page 202, just might be the book’s creators. It contains 678 illustrated calf-skin or vellum pages with the last two being without illustration.
It was written in colorful inks that were made from the monks. Some of the inks come from all over the continent. The inks have yet to fade, in all of 1000 years. Only two of its 680 pages are without color. Not intended for daily use or study, it was a sacred work of art to appear on the altar for very special occasions. Since 1661 the Book of Kells has been kept in the Library of Trinity College in Dublin. The fact that the preservation of medieval manuscripts requires strict conservation measures was not understood in the 19th century and the book suffered from more than the ravages of time.
It suffered damage when it was improperly rebound in. Not recognizing that some of the pages varied in size, the binder actually cut off some of the gorgeous illumination in order to standardize the size (homepage. mac. com). In 1953, the Book underwent a huge process of restoration. The book was then split into four sections. Two sections are under highly controlled conditions, while the other two are available for selective scholars to look at. The Trinity College constantly changes the pages so that you can view all of the ornately decorated pages of the Book of Kells.
Thousands of people flock from all over to see the book annually. To make this treasure more accessible, officials at Trinity College decided in 1986 to allow a limited number of high quality facsimiles to be made by a Swiss publisher, Urs Duggelin, whose firm (Faksimile Verlag or Fine Art Facsimile Publishers) specializes in reproduction of rare illuminated manuscripts and has an outstanding reputation. Duggelin considers this project the fulfillment of a lifetime dream, but when he first proposed it, officials at Trinity College said no, unequivocally.
But when he offered to observe unusually strict security and preservation measures, the door opened. The original was not to be removed from Dublin. It could not be unbound (usual practice for photo reproduction), and worst of all, its pages were not to be touched by anyone or anything–not even a glass photographic plate. Undeterred, Duggelin invested a quarter of a million Swiss francs and two and a half years of work to invent a unique machine that allowed them to photograph the book without touching it. The photography was done over several days in August 1986. Then the real work began.
Master lithographers and craftsmen drew upon computer enhancement as well as their own skill to reproduce a true facsimile (the latin word means “Make it the same! “). Each page traveled an average of five times between Ireland and Switzerland. The copy recreates faithfully the present-day condition of the original, including some 580 holes made by beetles, weevils, and the aging process. Normal color printing is limited to four colors, but some pages of the Book of Kells had ten colors, so a more complicated and costly process was followed. The books are bound and sewn by hand, following a medieval process that requires great skill.
(homepage. mac. com). As many as ten different colors were used in the illuminations, some of them rare and expensive dyes that had to be imported from the continent. The workmanship is so fine that some of the details can only be clearly seen with a magnifying glass. historymedren. about. com Sometimes the colours are laid on in thick layers to give the appearance of enamel, and are here and there as bright and soft and lustrous as when put on fresh more than twelve hundred years ago. Even the best photographic and colour reproductions give but a faint idea of the beauty of the original.
Especially worthy of notice is the series of illuminated miniatures, including pictorial representations of the Evangelists and their symbols, the Blessed Virgin and the Divine Child, the temptation of Jesus, and Jesus seized by the Jews. These pictures reach their culminating point in what is, in some respects, the most marvellous example of workmanship that the world has ever produced, namely the full page monogram XPI which occurs in the text of the Gospel of St. Matthew. It is no wonder that it was for a long time believed that the “Book of Kells” could have been written only by angels.
Catholic encylopedia How the Gospels of St. Columba survived this century of violence and spoliation it is impossible to say: we only know that they were preserved in the church at Kells in the year 1006The MS. stolen in 1006, when, according to the earliest historical reference to the Manuscript itself, “the large Gospel of Colum Cille” in its cover of gold studded with precious stones, “the chief relic of the western world,” was stolen by night from the greater church at Kells, and found, after a lapse of some months, concealed under sods, destitute of its gold-covered binding.
† It is not unlikely that most of the leaves now missing from the Manuscript disappeared at the same time. Giraldus Cambrensis has described this identical volume in a passage in his Topographia Hiberni? He lavishes the highest praise on its brilliant colouring, on the endless variety of its figures, on the elaborate intricacies of its interlaced ornamentation—all of which, as he tells us, one would be ready to pronounce the work of angelic, and not human skill. At the time of the dissolution of the monasteries the at Kells was surrendered to the Crown by its last Abbot, Richard Plunket.
The instrument under which this surrender was effected, dated 18th November 1539, is entered on the Rolls of the Chancery of Ireland, 31 Henry VIII. The famous Manuscript of the Gospels itself, which seems to have survived in an almost miraculous fashion the unending incursions and pillage of many centuries, found its way shortly after the surrender of the monastery into the hands of one Gerald Plunket of Dublin, a kinsman possibly of the last Abbot. During the time the volume was in his possession be inscribed some notes which are still legible on its pages, showing that portions were lacking at the end of the book even in his day.
On an early leaf he writes: “This worke doth passe all men’s conyng that now doth live in any place. I doubt not there . . . anything but that ye writer hatte obtained God’s grace. G. P. ” Ussher, who was commissioned by James I. to collect antiquities relating to the British Church, acquired, amongst other rare possessions, the Book of Kells. It was included in the portion of his collection which was transferred to Trinity College, Dublin, five years after his death, in the year 1661; since which time it has been the chief treasure of the University Library.
Housed as it then was one might have expected that a volume of so notorious, not to say sacred, a character would have enjoyed inviolable sanctuary. Unhappily, what Norseman and Dane had failed to effect in early and wilder centuries was accomplished by an ignorant and mischievous bookbinder, some hundred years ago; and under the barbarous hands of this craftsman many of the outer margins of its priceless illuminations have been “trimmed” out of existence, as may be seen by looking at the Plates in this volume. measuring, in their now cropped condition, 13 by 9?
inches The first leaf—too rubbed to furnish a reproduction of a satisfactoryThe Evangelical Symbols. kind—is surrounded by an ornamental border, and is divided vertically into two divisions, one containing a number of Hebrew words with their Latin equivalents, and the other occupied by the Evangelical Symbols. These symbols, which were adopted at an early period in the history of Christianity, are as follows: The Man, or Angel, stands for St. Matthew, figurative of his emphasising the human side of Christ; the Lion for St.
Mark, as he has set forth the power and royal dignity of Christ; the Calf, or sacrificial victim, for St. Luke, as his Gospel illustrates the priesthood of the Saviour; and the Eagle for St. John, the Evangelist who soars to heaven, as St. Augustine puts it, and gazes on the light of immutable truth with keen and undazzled eyes. In the present instance these are all unhappily much worn by attrition, but enough is visible to show that books are held by each of the symbolical figures. The next eight pages are filled with what are known as the EusebianThe Eusebian Canons. Canons.
They take their name from Eusebius, Bishop of C? sarea, a well-known Church historian. Before his time a Harmony of the Gospels had been constructed by Ammonius of Alexandria, about A. D. 220, in which St. Matthew’s Gospel was taken as the standard, and parallel passages from the other Gospels were set out side by side with it. Eusebius improved on his predecessor’s plan; his object being to set forth the mutual relation of the four evangelical narratives, and not merely to furnish illustrations to certain passages from other sources, as in the marginal references in modem Bibles.
The method of interpreting the lettering in these Canons, dependent as it is on certain sectional divisions of the Gospels specially devised by the author, is too intricate to go into here. Professor Hartley concludes his paper thus:— “The master who taught the art of designing and painting to the artist who executed the Book of Kells unquestionably knew how to prepare the colours. As for the materials, malachite . . . green in colour, is found near Cork and Limerick; chrysocolla . . . green to blue in colour, is found in the County Cork; chrome, h?
matite, and ochres occur in the County Wicklow; of red h? matite of an earthy nature, such as is termed raddle, there is a plentiful supply in the County Antrim. Orpiment and realgar must have been obtained from elsewhere, and the purples were undoubtedly of artificial origin; it is probable they were brought from abroad, and such colours were no doubt treasured as jewels. ” sacred-texts. com The name “Book of Kells” is derived from the Abbey of Kells in Kells, County Meath in Ireland, where it was kept for much of the medieval period.
The Abbey of Kells was founded in the early ninth century, at the time of the Viking invasions, by monks from the monastery at Iona (off the Western coast of Scotland). Iona, which had been a missionary center for the Columban community, had been founded by Columba (December 7, 521 – June 9, 597) in the middle of the sixth century. When repeated Viking raids made Iona too dangerous, the majority of the community moved to Kells, which became the center of the group of communities founded by Columba. The date and place of production of the manuscript has been the subject of considerable debate.
Traditionally, the book was thought to have been created in the time of Saint Columba (also known as St. Columcille), possibly even as the work of his own hands. However, it is now generally accepted that this tradition is false based on palaeographic grounds: the style of script in which the book is written did not develop until well after Columba’s death, making it impossible for him to have written it. The twelfth century writer, Gerald of Wales, in his Topographia Hibernica, described, in a famous passage, seeing a great Gospel Book in Kildare which many have since assumed was the Book of Kells.
His description certainly matches Kells: “This book contains the harmony of the four Evangelists according to Jerome, where for almost every page there are different designs, distinguished by varied colours. Here you may see the face of majesty, divinely drawn, here the mystic symbols of the Evangelists, each with wings, now six, now four, now two; here the eagle, there the calf, here the man and there the lion, and other forms almost infinite. Look at them superficially with the ordinary glance, and you would think it is an erasure, and not tracery.
Fine craftsmanship is all about you, but you might not notice it. Look more keenly at it and you will penetrate to the very shrine of art. You will make out intricacies, so delicate and so subtle, so full of knots and links, with colours so fresh and vivid, that you might say that all this was the work of an angel, and not of a man. ” Since Gerald claims to have seen the book in Kildare, he may have seen another, now lost, book equal in quality to the Book of Kells, or he may have been confused as to his location when seeing Kells.
The Abbey of Kells was dissolved due to the ecclesiastical reforms of the twelfth century. The abbey church was converted to a parish church in which the Book of Kells remained. In 2000, the volume containing the Gospel of Mark was sent to Canberra, Australia for an exhibition of illuminated manuscripts. This was only the fourth time the Book of Kells had been sent abroad for exhibition. Unfortunately, the volume suffered what has been called “minor pigment damage” while en route to Canberra. It is thought that the vibrations from the aeroplane’s engines during the long flight may have caused the damage.
The Book of Kells contains the four gospels of the Christian New Testament written in black, red, purple, and yellow ink in an insular majuscule script, preceded by prefaces, summaries, and concordances of gospel passages. Today it consists of 340 vellum leaves, called folios. The majority of the folios are part of larger sheets, called bifolios, which are folded in half to form two folios. The bifolios are nested inside of each other and sewn together to form gatherings called quires. On occasion, a folio is not part of a bifolio, but is instead a single sheet inserted within a quire.
It is believed that some 30 folios have been lost. (When the book was examined by Ussher in 1621 there were 344 folios. ) The extant folios are gathered into 38 quires. There are between four and twelve folios per quire (two to six bifolios). Ten folios per quire is common. Some folios are single sheets. The important decorated pages often occurred on single sheets. The folios had lines drawn for the text, sometimes on both sides, after the bifolia were folded. Prick marks and guide lines can still be seen on some pages.
The vellum is of high quality, although the folios have an uneven thickness, with some being almost leather, while others are so thin as to be almost translucent. The book’s current dimensions are 330 by 250 mm. Originally the folios were not of standard size, but they were cropped to the current standard size during an eighteenth century rebinding. The text area is approximately 250 by 170 mm. Each text page has 16 to 18 lines of text. The manuscript is in remarkably good condition. The book was apparently left unfinished, as some of the artwork appears only in outline.
Surprisingly, given the lavish nature of the work, there was no use of gold or silver leaf in the manuscript. The pigments used for the illustrations had to be imported from all over Europe; the immensely expensive blue lapis lazuli came from Afghanistan. The preliminary matter is introduced by an iconic image of the Virgin and Child (folio 7v). This miniature is the first representation of the Virgin in a western manuscript. Mary is shown in an odd mixture of frontal and three-quarter pose. This miniature also bears a stylistic similarity to the carvings on the lid of Saint Cuthbert’s coffin.
The iconography of the miniature may ultimately derive from an Eastern or Coptic icon. The book was designed so that each of the Gospels would have an elaborate introductory decorative programme. Each Gospel was originally prefaced by a full page miniature containing the four evangelist symbols, followed by a blank page. Then came a portrait of the evangelist which faced the opening text of the gospel which was given an elaborate decorative treatment. The Gospel of Matthew retains both its Evangelist portrait (folio 28v) and its page of Evangelist symbols (folio 27r, see above).
The Gospel of Mark is missing the Evangelist portrait, but retains its Evangelist symbols page (folio 129v). The Gospel of Luke is missing both the portrait and the Evangelist symbols page. The Gospel of John, like the Matthew retains both its portrait (folio 291v, see at right) and its Evangelist symbols page (folio 290v). It can be assumed that the portraits for Mark and Luke, and the symbols page for Luke at one time existed, but have been lost. The use of all four of the Evangelist symbols in front of each Gospel is striking and was intended to reinforce the message of the unity of the Gospels.
In the Book of Kells, the Chi Rho monogram has grown to consume the entire page. The letter “Chi” dominates the page with one arm swooping across the majority of the page. The letter “Rho” is snuggled underneath the arms of the Chi. Both letters are divided into compartment which are lavishly decorated with knot work and other patterns. The background is likewise awash in mass of swirling and knotted decoration. Within this mass of decoration are hidden animals and insects. Three angels arise from one of the cross arms of the Chi.
This miniature is the largest and most lavish extant Chi Rho monogram in any Insular Gospel Books The book had a sacramental, rather than educational purpose. A large, lavish Gospel, such as the Book of Kells would have been left on the high altar of the church, and taken off only for the reading of the Gospel during Mass. However, it is probable that the reader would not actually read the text from the book, but rather recite from memory. It is significant that the Chronicles of Ulster state that the book was stolen from the sacristy (where the vessels and other accruements of the mass were stored) rather than from the monastic library.
The design of the book seems to take this purpose in mind, that is the book was produced to look good rather than be useful. There are numerous uncorrected mistakes in the text. Lines were often completed in a blank space in the line above. The chapter headings that were necessary to make the canon tables usable were not inserted into the margins of the page. In general, nothing was done to disrupt the aesthetic look of the page: aesthetics were given a priority over utility.