February 2016. “It has always been difficult to write about the Book of Kells without resorting to hyperbole.” That is the opening sentence in a book by Bernard Meehan (The Book of Kells, Thames & Hudson) and having visited the
exhibition in the library of Trinity College I can understand why he wrote those words. The images posted on line – there are many – do not begin to do justice to the original manuscript whose pages glow with beauty. On a damp Friday afternoon in February there were plenty of visitors to this stunning display of early Christian art. The Book of Kells is believed to have been written around 807, the date and place of origin are still controversial.
Written on vellum – prepared calfskin – with most of the text consisting of a “brownish iron/gall ink made from crushed oak apples and sulphate of iron in a medium of gum and water”, with a, “black carbon ink, made from lamp black or soot”.
“The book employed a rich palette of organic and mineral pigments,” including lapis lazuli from Afghanistan and, “orpiment – yellow arsenic sulphide – known as auripigmentum. This latter was used as a substitute for gold.
I cannot recommend this wonderful and enlightening exhibition enough, don’t miss it if you are in Dublin.