Durrow Spiral (2)


Marysville, United States

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Artist's Description

One of the most famous Irish illuminated manuscripts, and a masterpiece of early Medieval art, the Book of Durrow is the first of the fully decorated Gospel Books.

A masterpiece of medieval Christian art, it probably dates to the period 650-680, despite a later inscription which recorded the legend that it was copied out by St Columba (c.521-597) in the space of 12 days.

This, at least, confirms its place of origin as one of the Columban group of monasteries, but it is still unclear whether it was produced at Iona (its chief foundation), in one of the Irish houses, or in Northumbria.

Certain textual peculiarities link it with the Book of Kells, which would favour the Iona argument, but this has to be balanced by stylistic considerations, where there are greater affinities with north-eastern Britain. In any event, the manuscript was in Ireland by the 10th century, when a special shrine was created for it.

A century later, it had arrived at Durrow Abbey itself, in County Offaly, one of the monasteries founded by St Columba.

Not only is it a superb example of early Christian art, it is the earliest surviving fully decorated Gospel manuscript of the Hiberno-Saxon Insular Art tradition.

It exemplifies the start of medieval book illustration based on the monastic concept of illustrating the sacred text as if with precious jewels and textiles.

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