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Nov 6. Featured Community Editor Ben Keller. Dec 4, New Comment. Editor Carlos Miller. In the Book of Kells, the makers of the manuscript planned for twelve pages folios 1v through 7r but for unknown reasons, condensed them into ten, leaving folios 6v and 7r blank. This condensation rendered the canon tables unusable. The decoration of the first eight pages of the canon tables is heavily influenced by early Gospel Books from the Mediterranean, where it was traditional to enclose the tables within an arcade as seen in the London Canon Tables.
The four evangelist symbols occupy the spaces under and above the arches. The last two canon tables are presented within a grid. This presentation is limited to Insular manuscripts and was first seen in the Book of Durrow. The remainder of the book is broken into sections with the divisions set off by miniatures and full pages of decorated text. Each of the Gospels is introduced by a consistent decorative programme. The preliminary matter is treated as one section and introduced by a lavish decorative spread.
In addition to the preliminaries and the Gospels, the "second beginning" of the Gospel of Matthew is also given its own introductory decoration. The preliminary matter is introduced by an iconic image of the Virgin and Child folio 7v. This miniature is the first representation of the Virgin Mary in a Western manuscript. Mary is shown in an odd mixture of frontal and three-quarter pose. This miniature also bears a stylistic similarity to the carved image on the lid of St. Cuthbert's coffin of The iconography of the miniature may derive from an Eastern or Coptic icon.
The miniature of the Virgin and Child faces the first page of text and is an appropriate preface to the beginning of the Breves Causae of Matthew, which begins Nativitas Christi in Bethlem the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. The beginning page folio 8r of the text of the Breves Causae is decorated and contained within an elaborate frame. The two-page spread of the miniature and the text makes a vivid introductory statement for the prefatory material.
The opening line of each of the sections of the preliminary matter is enlarged and decorated see above for the Breves causae of Luke , but no other section of the preliminaries is given the same level of treatment as the beginning of the Breves Causae of Matthew. The book was designed so that each of the Gospels would have an elaborate introductory decorative programme. Each Gospel was originally prefaced by a full page miniature containing the four evangelist symbols, followed by a blank page.
Then came a portrait of the evangelist which faced the opening text of the Gospel which was given an elaborate decorative treatment. The Gospel of Mark is missing the Evangelist portrait but retains its Evangelist symbols page folio v. The Gospel of Luke is missing both the portrait and the Evangelist symbols page. The Gospel of John, like the Gospel of Matthew, retains both its portrait folio v, see at right and its Evangelist symbols page folio v. It can be assumed that the portraits for Mark and Luke and the symbols page for Luke at one time existed but have been lost. The ornamentation of the opening few words of each Gospel is lavish; their decoration is so elaborate that the text itself is almost illegible.
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The opening page folio 29r of Matthew may stand as an example. See illustration at left. The page consists of only two words: Liber generationis "The book of the generation". The lib of Liber is turned into a giant monogram which dominates the entire page. The er of Liber is presented as an interlaced ornament within the b of the lib monogram.
Generationis is broken into three lines and contained within an elaborate frame in the right lower quadrant of the page. The entire assemblage is contained within an elaborate border. The border and the letters themselves are further decorated with elaborate spirals and knot work , many of them zoomorphic. The opening words of Mark, Initium evangelii "The beginning of the Gospel" , Luke, Quoniam quidem multi , and John, In principio erat verbum "In the beginning was the Word" , are all given similar treatments. Although the decoration of these pages was most extensive in the Book of Kells, these pages were decorated in all the other Insular Gospel Books.
The Gospel of Matthew begins with a genealogy of Jesus. At Matthew , the actual narrative of Christ's life starts. This "second beginning" to Matthew was given emphasis in many early Gospel Books, so much so that the two sections were often treated as separate works. The second beginning starts with the word Christ. The Greek letters chi and rho were normally used in medieval manuscripts to abbreviate the word Christ.
In the Book of Kells, this second beginning was given a decorative programme equal to those that preface the individual Gospels. It has been argued that this miniature is one of the lost evangelist portraits. However, the iconography is quite different from the extant portraits, and current scholarship accepts this identification and placement for this miniature. Facing this miniature, on folio 33r , is the only carpet page in the Book of Kells, which is rather anomalous; the Lindisfarne Gospels have five extant carpet pages and the Book of Durrow has six.
The blank verso of folio 33 faces the single most lavish miniature of the early medieval period, the Book of Kells Chi Rho monogram, which serves as incipit for the narrative of the life of Christ.
In the Book of Kells, the Chi Rho monogram has grown to consume the entire page. The letter chi dominates the page with one arm swooping across the majority of the page. The letter rho is snuggled underneath the arms of the chi. Both letters are divided into compartments which are lavishly decorated with knot work and other patterns. The background is likewise awash in a mass of swirling and knotted decoration. Within this mass of decoration are hidden animals and insects.
Three angels arise from one of the cross arms of the chi. This miniature is the largest and most lavish extant Chi Rho monogram in any Insular Gospel Books and is the culmination of a tradition that started with the Book of Durrow. The Book of Kells contains two other full-page miniatures, which illustrate episodes from the Passion story.
The text of Matthew is illustrated with a full-page illumination of the Arrest of Christ folio r. Jesus is shown beneath a stylised arcade while being held by two much smaller figures. Christ is shown from the waist up on top of the Temple. To his right is a crowd of people, perhaps representing his disciples.
To his left and below him is a black figure of Satan. Above him hover two angels.
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The verso of the folio containing the Arrest of Christ has a full page of decorated text which begins " Tunc dicit illis ". Facing the miniature of the Temptation is another full page of decorated text folio r "Iesus autem plenus". In addition to this page, five other full pages also receive elaborate treatment. In Matthew, there is one other full-page treatment folio r , "Tunc crucifixerant Xpi cum eo duos latrones". In the Gospel of Mark, there are also two pages of decorated text folio r , "Erat autem hora tercia", and folio v, "[Et Dominus] quidem [Iesus] postquam".
The Gospel of Luke contains two pages of fully decorated text folio v, "Fuit in diebus Herodis ", and folio r , "Una autem sabbati valde". Although these texts do not have miniatures associated with them, it is probable that miniatures were planned to accompany each of these texts and have either been lost or were never completed.
In the Gospel of John, there is no surviving full page of decorated text, apart from its incipit.
However, in the other three Gospels, all the full pages of decorated text, except for folio c, which begins the Nativity narration, occur within the Passion narrative. However, since the missing folios of John contain the Passion narrative, it is likely that John contained full pages of decorated text that have been lost.
The decoration of the book is not limited to the major pages. Scattered through the text are decorated initials and small figures of animals and humans often twisted and tied into complicated knots. Many significant texts, such as the Pater Noster have decorated initials. The page containing text of the Beatitudes in Matthew folio 40v has a large miniature along the left margin of the page in which the letter B which begins each line is linked into an ornate chain.
The genealogy of Christ found in the Gospel of Luke folio r contains a similar miniature in which the word qui is repeatedly linked along the left margin. Many of the small animals scattered throughout the text serve to mark a "turn-in-the-path" that is, a place where a line is finished in a space above or below the original line. Many other animals serve to fill spaces left at the end of lines. No two of these designs are the same.
No earlier surviving manuscript has this massive amount of decoration. The decorations are all high quality and often highly complex. In one decoration, which occupies a one-inch square piece of a page, there are complex interlacements of white ribbon with a black border on either side.
Some decorations can only be fully seen with magnifying glasses, although lenses of the required power are not known to have been available until hundreds of years after the book's completion. The complicated knot work and interweaving found in Kells and related manuscripts have many parallels in the metalwork and stone carving of the period.
The book had a sacramental rather than educational purpose. Such a large, lavish Gospel would have been left on the high altar of the church and removed only for the reading of the Gospel during Mass, with the reader probably reciting from memory more than reading the text. It is significant that the Chronicles of Ulster state the book was stolen from the sacristy , where the vessels and other accoutrements of the Mass were stored, rather than from the monastic library.