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Ramann Analysis - Book of Kells

History and Main Idea

The Book of Kells is a large calfskin-parchment manuscript codex, dating from around 800 CE, of the four gospels based on the Vulgate text. [1,2] It contains 340 folios (680 pages), although originally it may have had 370 folios. [1,3] There are 34 full- folio decorated pages featuring symbols and portraits of the Evangelists, Christ, the Virgin and Child, and illustrations of events in the life of Christ. Since 1956, the manuscript has been bound in four volumes, one for each of the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

The Book of Kells has survived as one of the greatest examples of medieval Christian art. It is renowned for the richness of its decoration, which ranges in complexity from full-page compositions based around words, initials and portraits, to small details used to augment and emphasise text. Despite numerous studies of its history, iconography, materials and techniques, many questions remain about its origins and production, and there have been discrepancies and differences of opinion in published descriptions of the range and type of pigments used by its scribes. In the past 50 years there have been three major pigment studies. In 1960, Roosen-Runge and Werner examined the manuscript using low-power polarising light microscopy, [4] and by comparing the optical characteristics of the pigments with samples prepared according to medieval recipes. In 1989, Cains [5] reviewed the work of Roosen-Runge and Werner, and re-examined the manuscript using optical microscopy with some differing results. In a more extensive study in 1991 – 1992, Fuchs and Oltrogge [6] employed colour spectroscopy as well as optical microscopy. While concurring with the previous studies in certain respects, they also proposed some new conclusions.

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