The Book of Kells is an ancient Irish. 8th-9th century illustrated manuscript. It belongs to the Irish group of illuminated manuscripts. Works produced in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and North England, and have so many features in common that the area is treated as a singlular cultural province, called Hiberno-Saxon.
The Book of Kells has been described as the chief relic of the Western world. Some examples of the Hiberno-Saxon Irish group are the book of Durrows and the Lindensform gospels.
The Book consists of the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Book of Kells is written on vellum. It is assumed to have originated at Iona in Scotland and completed at the Irish monastery of Kells. The eminent scribe Connachtach and the Abbot of Iona are said to have started the Book of Kells.
It now resides in the library of Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.
The book is a large-sized book which shows that it was probably intended to be an altar-book. It is written in the Irish style. The book is a Latin copy of the gospels. The book is said to be "generally regarded as one of the finest examples of Christian Celtic art."
There is no real gold decoration but a generous use of yellow makes up for the lack of gold. Some other colors in the book are red, black, purple and indigo. Decorated initials are a very common feature of the book. Many of the letters fit into the shape of animals. Some examples of animals are: lion, calf, eagle, snake, moths,otters, cats, and mice.
The designs in the book have an almost perfect symmetry. However, I found it is very difficult to decipher what animal the artist's were showing. The Chi-Rho page is one of the most unusual pages. It provides very good examples of different designs. Indeed, the decoration takes up most of the page. Thus, leaving only a small space for writing. The Chi-Rho page is the most celebrated of the Kell images according to Marilyn Stokstad, author of Medieval Art.
The contents of the Book of Kells are: the text of the gospels, the canon-tables,the breves causae (summaries of the gospel), argumenta: (strange collections of lore and legend concerning the evangelists), and lists of Hebrew names with interpretations. It also contains genealogy in the Gosple of St. Matthew. The book is incomplete. It is missing several pages either from getting loose or from thievery.
The Book is a beautiful example of Irish illuminated manuscripts. It possesses colorful and complex decoration that would take a life-time to properly study. The designs are very complex and ornate. They consist of strange little animals, plants, spirals, mazes, and swirls. Only two pages of the book do not have any decoration. The designs are very beautiful and it is hard to focus on any individual page as each page has a multitude of intricate designs.
The designs of the Book of Kells are very ornate. It has no less than 31 full-page illustrations. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each have full-page illustration of their particular symbol. Matthew was the angel, Mark the lion, Luke the bull, and John the eagle. Other full-page illustrations are portraits of Christ, Virgin Mary and of the evangelists.
Celtic symbols are designs that date from the pre-Christianity period that were used in ornamentation on brooches, mirrors and other objects. According to the encyclopedia Celtic Art is: "the highly stylized curvilinear art that originated during the second half of the first millennium BC, among the Celtic peoples of Iron Age Europe." Celtic art was highly influenced by Etruscan and Greek motifs.
The designs in the Book of Kells contain one intruding element, namely foliage patterns. This relates to the syle of Celtic art called La Tene. "La Tene is distinguished by the use of high-relief ornament and by a delight in complete transformation of form, from abstract to figurative and from plant to animal." Celtic ornament are found in stone coffins and in the manuscript paintings of the Celtic monks of the sixth century. Much beautiful Celtic art has been unearthed in Scotland as Archeaological 'digs' are going on their constantly. One wonders what would be found if Ireland ever decided to do some digs, it boggles the mind. The Celts were thought of as Barbarians until the archeaologists have proven otherwise. They were a very cultured and advanced people for their time. Decorations, pots, bracelets and beautiful artwork animal shapes, many modernistic in form have been unearthed. One can hardly wait to learn what else they unearth. In Scotland, the ''Book of Deer' resides in the Museum at one of the leading British universities.
presented for your enjoyment,
Nancy A. MacCorkill, F.S.A. Scot USA
Historian of the Ancient Clans of Scotland
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