Chapter 3 - A Symbiotic Relationship : Books

A page from Lindisfarne Gospels, circa 715 AD. The Lindisfarne Gospels are attributed to be the work of a monk named Eadfrith of Lindisfarne, who later became Bishop of Lindisfarne and died in 721. (3) It is believed the gospels were produced in honour of Cuthbert of Lindisfarne. These incorporates highly decorated illustrations in a detached form, and were originally encased in a fine leather binding covered with jewels and metals made by Billfrith the Anchorite in the 8th century. However, during the Viking raids on Lindisfarne the original cover was lost, and a replacement made in 1852.(4)
Throughout their histories a symbiotic relationship has existed between the book and graphic design. The modern form of the book which appeared around the second century AD is called the codex. These had a number of detached leaves or pages secured between protective covers. The writing surface of the early illustrated codices were either papyrus or parchments made from animal skins. Gradually in Europe and the Middle East, parchments replaced papyrus for production of the codex and remained the preferred media in Europe for the next 800 years when the mass production of paper gradually replaced them.

Paper which was invented in China around 105 AD, was at first prepared from bark and hemp. These were not quite suitable for drawing and decoration. Although, paper produced by the Chinese technology was of a high standard. This technology was transferred to Japan around 610 AD, and then to the Arab world via Samarkand in Central Asia. In America, the Aztec and Mayan civilizations also produced a more primitive bark paper from an unknown date.

In Europe paper was introduced by Arab traders of Spain. Italy was the first European country that produced paper around 1276 AD, and more than two and half centuries later England began to produce it in 1495. The primary reason for this slow pace was the low quality of these papers which were unsuited for graphic design of European religious manuscripts.1 Among these early European manuscripts are the Bibles that have been created in the monasteries of Ireland, Scotland, and England. Many of graphic decorations in these books have been influenced by the Arabesque style of Muslim manuscripts that employed mainly geometrical and abstract designs for decorating their holy books and their mosques.

The Court School of Charlemagne (also known as the Ada School) produced the earliest manuscripts, including the Ada Gospels. The Ada Gospels is a late eighth century or early ninth century Carolingian Gospel Book. The manuscript contains a dedication to Charlemagne's sister Ada, whence it gets its name.The Court School manuscripts were ornate, elegant, dramatic, and evocative of 6th century ivories and mosaics from Ravenna, Italy.

In the early 9th century Archbishop Ebo of Rheims, at Hautvillers (near Rheims), assembled artists and transformed Carolingian art to something which evoked a revival of Roman classicism. However, it still kept its characteristics of basically linear presentation, with no concern for volume and spatial relationships. The style was reminiscent of the Merovingian and Hiberno-Saxon traditions known as the art of the Migration Period . The Gospels were painted with energetic, bright and vivid brush strokes, evoking an inspiration and energy unknown in classical Mediterranean forms. (5) 

The Book of Kells is the most famous, and one of the finest, of a group of manuscripts in what is known as the Insular style, produced from the late 6th through the early 9th centuries in the British monasteries (6). The graphic decorations are all high quality and often very complex. In one decoration, which occupies a one-inch square piece of a page, there are 158 complex interlaces of white ribbon with a black border on either side.

Such designs are scattered throughout the text with decorated initials and small figures of animals and humans often twisted and tied into complicated knots and many of them serve to fill spaces left at the end of lines. Many significant texts, such as the Pater Noster have decorated initials. No earlier surviving manuscript has this massive amount of decoration.

The Book of Durrow, a 7th-century illuminated manuscript made either at Durrow Abbey in Ireland, or in Northumbria in Northern England has a complex graphic design. There is a sense of space in the layout of all its pages. Open vellum balances intensely decorated areas. Animal interlace of very high quality appears on some folios . Other motifs include spirals, triskeles, ribbon plaits and circular knots in the carpet pages and borders around the Evangelists.

The first letter of the text is enlarged and decorated, with the following letters surrounded by dots.
The monks who endowed the Book of Durrow with their calligraphic art and decorative designwork can be regarded as being among the earliest Irish artists of the medieval period. The Gospel manuscript itself exemplifies the style known as Hiberno-Saxon or Ultimate La Tene, which was widely practised across the British Isles and Ireland. (7)

Commentary on the Apocalypse, Adam and Eve, Original Sin.  This commentary was popular during the Middle Ages and survives in over 30 manuscripts (usually called Beatus) from the 10th through the 13th century, published in 776 by Beatus of Liebana (730 -798, Spanish monk and theologian). Royal Library, El Escorial, Spain.


The Holkham Bible Picture Book. The creation of the animals. The Creator among his animals. There are seven kinds of trees, with the vine emerging from God's halo.The animals include a lion, elephant, and unicorn. The birds are carefully studied; some are shown flying, some like the owl perch on trees, and others by the water. There are two fishes, apparently pike.  England; C. 1320-1330.  The British Library, London, Great Britain

Jewish Folk Art Manuscript,  17th century, Megillat Esther, the biblical Book Esther read during the Purim festival. Queen Esther gives birth to King Cyrus, one of the many local additions to the original. Judeo-Persian epic, written 1322 by a Jewish poet from Shiraz. Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, USA.

A family celebrating the feast of Passover: Breaking the Matzah bread (unleavened bread). Vellum manuscript from the Barcelona Haggadah. Catalonia; 14th century. The British Library, London, Great Britain.

Duel (fencing) of knights. Illustration of "Theuerdank", an epic tale by Emperor Maximilian I (1459-1519), in which he tells how he wooed and wed his wife Marie de Bourgogne. Augsburg, 1517Library, Dillingen, Germany

Scene from the Battle of Crecy, 1346. Fierce fighting between soldiers and knights in armour during the Battle of Crecy, Picardie,France. From "Les Chroniques de France" ,The British Library, London, Great Britain


Go to the next Chapter: Chapter 4 - The Islamic Calligraphy

1. See: A Companion to the History of the Book,edited by Simon Eliot and Jonathan Rose, 2007, Blackwell Publishing, eISBN: 9781405127653

2. See: Larousse

3. See: Lindisfarne Gospels British Library.

4. See: The Lindisfarne Gospels: society, spirituality and the scribe
By Michelle P. Brown, University of Toronto Press, 2003, ISBN o-8020- 8597-o

5. see: A History of Art Vol 2 by G. Carotti, Beryl De Zoete, Publisher, E.P. Dutton, New York , 1909

6. Henry, Françoise (1974). The Book of Kells: Reproductions from the Manuscript in Trinity College, Dublin. New York: Alfred A Knopf. ISBN 039449475X.

7. The Book of Durrow: A Medieval Masterpiece at Trinity College Dublin, Roberts Rinehart Publishers 1996, ISBN-13: 978-1570980534

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