Book of Kells
Not so long ago, I was privileged to have been able to see the
original Book of Kells (800 AD), a Celtic Illumination. I have
never seen such beautiful artwork before. It was awe inspiring
and prompted me to include this page. The image on the left is
from the Book of Kells but this picture does not do it justice.
If you ever get a chance to see this book, or any other books of
Illumination, please do, you will not be disappointed.
There are many manuscripts on show, although mostly Biblical
manuscripts, the artwork is a pleasure to see just the same.
Illuminated Manuscripts, calligraphic codices, or hand-drawn
scrolls and books, enhanced by artists with decorations and
paintings. Manuscript illumination is the use of embellishment
and illustration to enhance the pages of a medieval manuscript.
Illuminations are also called miniatures, a term derived from
the Latin term minimum (red lead), the pigment once used to mark
the opening words of the text, and does not refer to diminutive
Paints for illumination were made from pigments of earth
substances, such as red, brown, or yellow ocher's; or were
derived from natural deposits of metals (for orange, red, and
brown) or from stones, such as lapis lazuli for blue. Azurite
for blue and malachite for green came from metallic ores, but
blue was also extracted from the wood and indigo plants, for
indigo blue. White came from lime, lead, or the ashes of burned
bird bones; yellow came from orpiment, a sulfide of arsenic, or
from saffron. Pigments were ground to a powder and fixed to the
parchment with glair, beaten egg whites allowed to stand until
liquefied enough to flow easily from a brush. In Europe, gold
leaf was made by hammering gold sheets down to the thickness of
a cobweb. The appearance of lumped solid gold was achieved by
layers of chalk or gesso, covered by bole, a pinkish earth
substance, which further enhanced the gold. Gold leaf was then
fixed to the parchment with glair, (animal gelatin), honey, or
sugar as a binder. The illuminator burnished the gold with an
animal tooth and often tooled geometric or floral designs on it.
Treatises on the manufacture of paints were written in medieval
Europe and the Middle East.
During the Middle Ages, when manuscript painting was considered
a high art, illuminators decorated their codices in several
ways. The book frequently opened with a carpet page so called
because its abstract designs resemble an Oriental carpet or an
imaginary portrait of the book's author or its patron. Within
the text, initial letters were enlarged and adorned, sometimes
containing figures and scenes, and at times shaped into
zoomorphic (animal-like) forms. In other manuscripts, columns of
writing were surrounded by botanical ornamentation, or the
margins were filled with playful birds, animals, and imaginary
beings. Some biblical, historical, and literary manuscripts
contained full-page illustrations, either with the text or
grouped together at the beginning.
and English Manuscripts
The centers for manuscript illumination from the 7th through the
9th century were monasteries in Ireland and England. Gospel
books and missals (books of prayers) were based on model
manuscripts from Italy and Coptic Egypt. The ornate,
two-dimensional carpet pages of these Anglo-Celtic manuscripts
resemble Islamic Korans and Hebrew Bibles from late 9th- and
10th-century Tiberias. The style of ornament, however,
particularly the interlacing zoomorphic forms, came from
pre-Christian Celtic metalwork. The manuscripts contained
architecturally decorated canon tables, lists of the Gospels'
parallel passages, and portraits of the four Evangelists with
their symbols. In the Book of Kells (mid-8th century), the
masterpiece of the age, the Madonna and Child and the temptation
of Christ also appear. No attempt was made to give the illusion
of space or portraiture; people, animals, and objects were
rendered as flat patterns.