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PAGES FROM THE BOOK OF KELLS
9,500 words, 43 full colour plates, 2 black and white plates
- By Andrew Forbes and David Henley
The Book of Kells is a magnificently illuminated manuscript Gospel in Vulgate Latin containing the four Gospels of the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, together with various prefatory texts and tables. It was created by Celtic monks on the small Island of Iona off the coast of western Scotland in about 800 CE. The text is mainly in Vulgate Latin dating from the 4th century CE, though there are passages in Vetus Latin or ‘old latin' that predate the Vulgate Bible. The Book of Kells is chiefly celebrated for its illuminated illustrations and elaborate ornamentation. It is considered to represent the very best of insular illumination and is widely considered Ireland's most important national treasure.
The manuscript comprises 340 folios now bound in four volumes. The text, in Insular majuscule script, is written on high-quality calf vellum lettered in iron-gall ink. It is elaborately decorated throughout with ornamental initial letters and interlinear miniatures, as well as extensive full-page illuminated illustrations including portraits of St Matthew and St John, three pages bearing the Four Evangelical Symbols, a Carpet Page, a miniature of the Virgin and Child, a miniature of Christ Enthroned, as well as miniatures of Christ Arrested and the Temptation of Christ. All are reproduced in this study.
In addition, eight of the ten pages of the Eusebian Canon are extensively decorated, as well as lavishly illuminated incipit pages for the opening of each of the Four Gospels. Again, all are reproduced here. In addition to the illustrations, we have included the major portion of Sir Edward Sullivan's 1914 study of The Book of Kells, as well as a brief biographical note on Sir Edward Sullivan.
Finally, the Book of Kells has long been associated with the Irish missionary monk Saint Columba (521-597 CE), known in Gaelic as Colum Cille, who in 563 first established the monastery at Iona where the Kells manuscript was commenced, if not completed. This study concludes with a chapter on ‘Saint Columba and the Island of Iona', together with related images both of the saint and of Iona Abbey.
Andrew Forbes and David Henley jointly own and manage the online Asian images library Pictures From History. The library also features a growing collection of images from Antiquity and the Middle Ages.
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