1) Some Famous Illuminated Manuscripts.
It is usual to regard English painting as beginning with the Tudor
period and for this are several reasons. Yet the fact remains that
painting was practised in England for many hundred years before the
first Tudors came to the throne.
The development of the linear design in which English artists have
always excelled can be traced back to the earliest illuminations
brilliantly evolved in irish monastic centres and brought to Northumbria
in the seventh century. Its principal feature is that wonderful
elaboration of interlaced ornament derived from the patterns of
metal-work in the Celtic Iron Age, which is to be found in the Book of
Kells and Lindesfarne Gospel, its Northumbrian equivalent.
The greatest achievement in Irish manuscript illumination, the Book of
Kells is now generally assigned to the late eighth or early ninth
century. The Book of Kells is a manuscrept of the gospes of rather
large size(33*24 cm)written on thick glazed vellum. Its pages were
originally still larger; but a binder, a century or so ago, clipped away
their margins, cutting even into edges of the illuminations. Otherwise
the manuscript is in relatively good condition, in spite of another
earlier misadventure. The great gospel, on account of its wrought
shrine, was wickedly stolen in the night from the sacresty of the
church and was found a few months later stripped of its gold, under a
sod. Finally the manuscript passed to trinity college, where it is
No manuscript approaches the book of kells for elaborate ornamentation.
A continuous chain of ornamentation runs through the text. The
capitals at the beginning of each paragraph--two, three, cour to a
page--are made of brightly coloured entwinements of birds, snakes,
destorted men and quadrupeds, fighting or performing all sorts of
acrebatic feats. Other animals wander about the pages between the lines
or on top of them.
The thirteenth century had been the century of the great cathedrals, in
which nearly all branches of art had their share. Work on these immense
enterprises contunued into the fourteenth century and even beyond, but
they were no longer the main focus of art. We must remember that the
world had changed a great deal during that peiod. In the middle of the
twelfth century Europe was still a thinly populated continent of
peasants with moasteries and baron's castles as the main centres of
power and learning. But a hundred and fifty years later towns had grown
into centres of trade whose burghers felt increasingly independent of
the poweof the Church and the fuedal lords. Even the nobles no longer
lived a life of grim seclusion in their fortified manors, but moved to
the cities with their comfort and fashionable luxury there to display
their wealth at the courts of the mighty. We can get a very vivid idea
of what life in the fourteenth century was like if we remember the works
of Chaucer, with his knights and squires, friars and artisans.
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