Illustration – The Book of Kells

Illustration is seen by many as the oldest form of visual communication and one that has had major influence over the way in which people have perceived life. Dating as far back as 2000 years, illustration has recorded many subjects such as social and cultural change, religion and politics.

Before my introduction to illustration I thought I had a decent understanding of the subject – I was wrong.  I underestimated the historical value, the symbolism and the effort put into producing them. What really interested me was the use of illustration to spread the word of religion, most notably that of the book of kells. The manuscript which contains the four gospels was originally produced in a monastery on the Isle of Iona, Scotland. However is now preserved in Trinity College, Dublin. The book was crucial for Christian belief, offering widespread exposure and understanding.

Having both Scottish and Irish relations, I have always had an interest in Celtic illustrations and designs. The sheer intricacy and effort put into each illustration and decoration is mind-blowing. The book format increased space for better composition between text and imagery, improving the experience of reading. Containing 680 individual pages of unique illustrations and type, It seen by many as the finest surviving manuscript produced in medieval Europe. With details so fine, the use of a magnifying glass is often needed to see more clearly.

“Look closely at it and you will penetrate the innermost secrets of art; you will find embellishments of such intricacy, such a wealth of knots and interlacing links that you might believe it was the work of an angel rather than a human being.”  Giraldus Cambrensis, 13th century scholar

The Book of Kells, Christ Enthroned. Image from the National Museum of Ireland and published on Wikimedia.

page 309 “Text from John’s Gospel”
written in Insular majuscule by the scribe known as “Hand B”

page 200 “Luke’s Genealogy of Jesus”


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About ryanmcginley

Currently studying Graphic Design at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design.

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