Uncertain origins

Most scholars agree that the manuscript was produced in Ireland, but recently one scholar came to the conclusion that it was produced in Pictland during the end of the eighth century. Arguably, there are Pictish features in the book, and Pictish influence was felt in Scots Dal Riada, and in the great monastic site at Iona. The artist may have been exposed to these Pictish influences while serving in the monastery there. It has often been suggested that it was produced in Iona, and then subsequently taken to Ireland. Wherever it was produced, it was most definitely the work of a Celtic artist of the highest caliber.

The Book of Kells represents a development over the earlier Book of Durrow in that it uses full-page illuminations, including pages depicting the Evangelists (in a symbolic form), the Temptation of Christ (known as the Temple page), the Betrayal of Christ, and the Virgin and Child. It also shows the Christ Child appearing like a miniature adult. The Virgin and Child (folio 7) is probably based on a Byzantine representation, since its features indicate an eastern Mediterranean influence.

One of the most charming features of the illumination is its light-hearted detail, such as the inclusion of animals playing, or small bearded warriors on the march. While scholars disagree on the meanings of many of its features, everyone can agree about its incredible vibrancy and beauty. The Book of Kells is truly one of the wonders of the early medieval age, and a splendid testament to the abilities of the Celtic monk-artists who produced it.

Book Kells


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