Celtic / Insular Illuminated Manuscripts:Book of Kells
Book of Armagh
Book of Cerne
Book of Deer
Book of Dimma
Book of Durrow
Book of Mulling
Cathach of St. Columba
Carolingian Manuscripts:Ebbo Gospels
Sacramentary of Gellone
Romanesque / Protogothic manuscripts:
Martyrdoms of St. Peter & Paul (MS 28)
Passionale (MS Harley 624)
Bestiary (MS Sloane 3544)
The Book of the White Earl (MS. Laud Misc. 610)
Old-Time books (XVI-XIX):
Abraham Eleazar (Samullis Baruch), Donum Dei (1735)
Aztec and Mesoamerican manuscripts:
Book of Kells
Library or archive where the manuscript keptDublin, Trinity College Library
Catalogue Number (Shelfmark)MS A. I. (MS 58)
OriginIreland / Scotland
Book of Kells Illustrations
A, B, C, D,
E, F, G, H,
I/J, K, L, M,
N, O, P, Q,
R, S, T, U / V,
X, Y, Z
Dogs, Lions, Fish, Snakes, Calves, Hares, Wolves, other Animals, Peacocks, other Birds
Frames, Corners, Misc. Decorations
Crucifixion, Arrest of Christ, Men, Monks, Horsemen, Mermaids
ABOUT THE BOOK OF KELLS
Most famous illuminated manuscript. Also known as the Book of Columba. Ornately illustrated manuscript, produced by Celtic monks around AD 800 in the style known as Insular art.
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 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 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. Evidence shows the Book of Kells was written around the year 800 AD.There is another tradition which has some traction among Irish scholars which suggests that it was created for the 200th anniversary of the saint's death.
The manuscript was never finished. There are at least five competing theories about the manuscript's place of origin and time of completion. First, the book may have been created entirely at Iona, then brought to Kells and never finished. Second, the book may have been begun at Iona and continued at Kells, but never finished. Third, the manuscript may have been produced entirely in the scriptorium at Kells. Fourth, it may have been produced in the north of England, perhaps at Lindisfarne, then brought to Iona and from there to Kells. Finally, it may have been the product of an unknown monastery in Scotland. Although the question of the exact location of the book's production will probably never be answered conclusively, the second theory, that it was begun at Iona and finished at Kells, is currently the most widely accepted. Regardless of which theory is true, it is certain that the Book of Kells was produced by Columban monks closely associated with the community at Iona.
The Book of Kells contains the four gospels of the Christian scriptures 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 folios.
It is believed that some 30 folios have been lost. (When the book was examined by Ussher in 1621 he counted 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 18th 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 considering its great age, though many pages have suffered some damage to the delicate artwork due to rubbing etc. The book must have been the product of a major scriptorium over several years, but was apparently never finished, the projected decoration of some of the pages appearing only in outline.
The book, as it exists now, contains preliminary matter, the complete text of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and the Gospel of John through John 17:13. The remainder of John and an unknown amount of the preliminary matter is missing and was perhaps lost when the book was stolen in the early 11th century. The extant preliminary matter consists of two fragments of lists of Hebrew names contained in the gospels, the Breves causae and the Argumenta of the four gospels, and the Eusebian canon tables.
The Book of Kells contains the text of the four gospels based on the Vulgate. It does not, however, contain a pure copy of the Vulgate. There are numerous variants from the Vulgate, where Old Latin translations are used rather than Jerome's text. Although these variants are common in all of the insular gospels, there does not seem to be a consistent pattern of variation amongst the various insular texts. It is thought that when the scribes were writing the text they often depended on memory rather than on their exemplar.
Folio 309r contains text from the Gospel of John written in Insular majuscule by the scribe known as "Hand B". Folio 309r contains text from the Gospel of John written in Insular majuscule by the scribe known as "Hand B".
The manuscript is written in Insular majuscule, with some minuscule letters usually "c" and "s". The text is usually written in one long line across the page. Françoise Henry identified at least three scribes in this manuscript, whom she named Hand A, Hand B, and Hand C. Hand A is found on folios 1 through 19v, folios 276 through 289 and folios 307 through the end of the manuscript. Hand A for the most part writes eighteen or nineteen lines per page in the brown gall-ink common throughout the west. Hand B is found on folios 19r through 26 and folios 124 through 128. Hand B has a somewhat greater tendency to use minuscule and uses red, purple and black ink and a variable number of lines per page. Hand C is found throughout the majority of the text. Hand C also has greater tendency to use minuscule than Hand A. Hand C uses the same brownish gall-ink used by hand A, and wrote, almost always, seventeen lines per page.
The text is accompanied by incredibly intricate full pages of artwork, with smaller painted decorations appearing throughout the text itself. The book has a broad palette of colours with purple, lilac, red, pink, green, and yellow being the colours most often used. (The illustrations in the Book of Durrow, by contrast, use only four colours.) 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 lavish illumination programme is far greater than any other surviving insular gospel book. There are ten surviving full page illuminations including two evangelist portraits, three pages with the four evangelist symbols, a carpet page, a miniature of the Virgin and Child, a miniature of Christ enthroned, and miniatures of the Arrest of Jesus and the Temptation of Christ. There are 13 surviving full pages of decorated text including pages for the first few words of each of the gospels. There are many pages where only some of the text on the page is decorated. Eight of the ten pages of the canon tables have extensive decoration. It is highly probable that there were other pages of miniature and decorated text that are now lost. In addition to these major pages there are a host of smaller decorations and decorated initials scattered throughout the text.
The extant folios of the manuscript start with the fragment of the glossary of Hebrew names. This fragment occupies one column of folio 1 recto. The other column of the folio is occupied by a miniature of the four evangelist symbols, now much abraded. The miniature is oriented so that the volume must be turned ninety degrees in order to view it properly. The four evangelist symbols are a visual theme that runs throughout the book. They are almost always shown together so that the doctrine of unity of message of the four Gospels is emphasised.