I thought I was going to struggle with this letter, but as I’ve been talking about art that
has inspired characters in some of the fiction that I love, it seemed only fair that I do a post on art inspired by the written word. And as I’ve been sticking mostly to older works of art, I figured illuminated manuscripts would fit quite nicely here.
Illuminated manuscripts are most often associated with the Middle Ages where hand-painted illustrations were added to the texts of sacred prayer books. Sometimes the illuminations were elaborate borders, other times they were of scenes and people. Usually completed with elaborate colors and sometimes even gold and other precious metals, these books became works of art themselves.
And they are beautiful.
For me, illuminated manuscripts bring to images of monks seated at an inclined desk, taking his time with each stroke of the brush as a candle burns and melts to a thick glob of wax on the corner, to mind.
Perhaps the most famous illuminated manuscript is the Book of Kells (circa 800)which
is on display in the Old Library at Trinity College in Dublin. The book contains the four Gospels of the New Testement. I was blessed enough to spend a summer in Ireland as a grad student many moons ago and I visited the Book of Kells (yeah, I know that sentence really screws up the flow, but hey, I don’t get to talk much about that summer anymore!) Anyway, the illuminations are, of course, beautiful. Based on the length and the elaboration it’s awe-inspiring to think that it was all done by hand.
Because of the age and the fragility of the book, only one page is turned a day. Through the college’s digital imaging services though, you can view the book on-line here.