MINIATURIST, Irish
(active around 800 on the Island of Iona)

Book of Kells

c. 800
Manuscript (Ms. A. I. 6 [58]), 330 x 241 mm
Trinity College Library, Dublin

The Book of Kells contains the four gospels in a Latin translation. There are 340 folios (678 pages) in colour decorated with miniatures, initials and symbols. It is likely that each gospel was intended to be headed by a page with a full-size miniature of the evangelist symbol, an evangelist portrait and a decorative rendering of the initial of the first word of the text.

Scholars differentiate between three main miniaturists: the "goldsmith", who decorated the introductory pages of the individual gospels with a degree of freedom reminiscent of the metal work of the day; the "illustrator", to whom miniatures can be assigned; and finally the "portraitist", who painted the evangelist portraits.

The picture shows two facing pages from the Book of Kells (folios 7v-8r). On the left is a full-page miniature of the Virgin Mary with the Child. Mary is sitting on a throne shown in side view and is surrounded by four angels. This portrayal is probably based on a model from the East. On the right is the beginning of the Gospel of St Matthew, with a particularly beautifully decorated text page.