(Portrait of Madonna and Child)
The Book of Kells is Ireland's most precious medieval artifact. The stunning manuscript contains the Four Gospels. It is considered to be the finest illustrated manuscript to have been produced in medieval Europe.
It is believed that the Book of Kells was written at a monastery on the Isle of Iona, Scotland in the 8th century. This was done in honor of Saint Columba. The book was then moved to Kells, Ireland in the 9th century after a Viking raid.
The book is well preserved considering what it has been through. Sometime in the 11th century, the book had been stolen; it's cover torn off and thrown in a ditch. The book has suffered little water damage and the cover has never been found. It most likely held gold and gems.
In 1541, when the English Reformation was taking place, the Roman Catholic Church took the book and held it for safe keeping. During the 17th century, it was returned to Ireland. Archbishop James Ussher then donated it to Trinity College in Dublin, where is still resides.
(Portrait of John)
The book of Kells was written on vellum or calf skin. It was time-consuming to prepare the vellum properly, but this made for a smooth writing surface. 680 pages have survived. Only two of those do not contain some sort of artistic illustration. In addition to the character illuminations, there are entire pages that are primarily ornamentation which include portrait pages, "carpet" pages, and partially decorated pages with little writing on them.
It is said there are 10 different colors that were used in the illustrations. Some of them are rare and expensive dyes that were imported from the continent. You need to use a magnifying glass to see some of the workmanship because the details are so fine.
The Fine Art Facsimile Publisher of Switzerland and Trinity College of Dublin began a project in the 1980's to produce a facsimile of the Book of Kells. Faksimile-Verlag Luzern produced more than 1,400 copies of a reproduction of the manuscript.