-By Diane Newland, Darwin and Vintage Bookseller
Celtic Illuminative Art in the Gospel Books of Durrow, Lindisfarne, and Kells.
By the Rev. Standford F H Robinson, M.A
The terms glorious and awesome (in its original, true sense of the word) spring from my lips in relation to this handsome, green, leatherbound book with its beautifully gilded design. Not merely due to its surface beauty but the page after page of remarkable illustrations from these three ancient, gospel books, as well as the historical content of the text, which is fascinating from an artistic perspective, as it details the different origins of their design influences.
The desire for beautiful books has been around since antiquity, and the monks who wrote and decorated these religious books understood, in a deeply felt sense, the powerful symbolism of creating an object of immense beauty to represent their religious beliefs and spiritual fervour.
Books are so much more than their content. They are imbued with the spirit of the writer, and illustrator. They are a communication of minds, thoughts, visions and ideas, crystallised into a small neat, solid rectangle. They are an object in their own right. They bring an atmosphere and energy to a room. I cannot begin to explain the quiet joy I feel, looking at the books I have. Some represent my gradual growth as a person over the decades of my life, some have an emotional symbolism for me, some are pure nostalgia saved from childhood, and a few are just exceedingly pretty. The presence of books is powerful, exciting, reassuring and comforting in equal measure, whether you read them from cover to cover or not, and like art they can be hugely visually pleasing.
This book on Celtic illuminative art is visually stunning both inside and out. The three gospel books that this book covers, all contain beautifully written script, with graceful and very decorative initials, capitals, and miniatures, all executed in colour, and wrought with burnished gold. This is where the word illumination came from. It added great beauty to the art of the scribe, and gave the people reading such books great pleasure.
The decorations based around the Initial developed into a maze of designs that were influenced by local taste and industry of the time. The textile art of plaiting and hand weaving gave the designs of interlaced ribbon-work, and metal workers and other craftsmen were creating other embellished designs, in different materials and by various processes, which influenced the books' design forms of men, dragons, dogs, reptiles, birds, dots, whorls, spirals and discs, along with the mosaic patterns and colours of the Cloissonné enamels of their sacred vessels and shrines.
The Celtic artists were very receptive to new influences, as shown in the Book of Kells, where Byzantine architectural design is in evidence, as well as the extraordinary mythical animal forms, so evident in early Scandinavian art. All these outside influences were woven together into the beautiful composite style of the elaborate embellishments that were painstakingly transferred to the leaves of vellum. This book, published in 1908, has combined selected ornamentation from all three Books of Durrow, Lindisfarne and Kells, and includes an account of the history and contents of each.
Having recently discovered my own ancient Scottish Celtic ancestry (full of bandits and bootleggers), which pinpointed my ancient ancestors' location to a specific place on the north-east coast of Scotland, near Lindisfarne, I personally find this book of great interest. There is something incredibly romantic about unearthing one's own history against a larger historical setting of bandits, artist monks and beautiful, jewelled and sacred books.
But you don't have to be of rebel origins to appreciate this book, so packed with art, history and divine beauty. If you have any interest in history, religion, art or design, the images in this book will be more than enough to pull you in and transport you back in time. And if your speciality is calligraphy, then this will be a complete jewel of a book for you.
It is available online and in our Darwin room, and the guide price is currently £80; a real steal for a book of such beauty.
Do you have a book whose beauty makes your heart sing in some way? Tell us about your favourite beautiful book, old or new. We love hearing about other people's book loves!
And if you like the idea of surrounding yourself with the atmospheric presence of lots of beautiful books, you will find our books by the yard service revelatory. You can buy books by their looks, as well as be specific about their contents, and we can help you curate a really stunning collection to surround yourself with. So what are you waiting for? Take a look at Books by the Yard, Bookbarn International's amazing sister website for all you passionate book lovers out there.
Did you enjoy reading this content? To get more like this sign up to our mailing list: Bookbarn Mailing List
To browse our Rare, Antiquarian and Vintage collection head to Abe Books.