While analysing the manuscripts we have examined the parchment to look for evidence of the working methods employed by the artists and scribes. As previously described the tell-tale signs are difficult to find due to the great age of the manuscripts and the many interventions they have had since leaving the scriptorium. However we have been lucky to discover some marks which indicate working practice.
It was usual for the scribe to prepare the parchment with guidelines to ensure the script was evenly spaced across the page within left and right margins and kept parallel to the top and bottom edges. This was typically established by leaving small incisions in the left and right margin to locate the lines equal distance apart, and a guide line scored into the skin with a sharp tool, such as a metal stylus, for the scribe to follow. The wedge shaped marks of a scribes’ knife can be found in the margin of folio 38v in The Garland of Howth which establish the even distance of the lines.
The Book of Dimma still exhibits the line markings scored into back of the page decorated with the symbol of St John. Typically, although not always, the pages with the portraits and symbols of the evangelists are kept blank, possibly because the artists relied on the semi-transparency of the sheet to aid with the planning and preparation of elaborate design elements, and also to create a break between the ending on one Gospel and the beginning of a new Gospel.
Lines were also scored or drawn on the vertical plane to establish the position for columns of text or border designs.
Compasses were used to create accurate circular design elements. On page 103 of Dimma we can see that the halo surrounding the head of the eagle and the lines that mark the position of the borders for page 104 are evidence of this practice.
In the same manuscript the Portrait of St Mark has been placed on the back of a page of script. The markings for the ends of lines no longer exist and if the lines were scored the impression is no longer visible, however the slight unevenness in the placement of the script suggests they may not have been applied. The artist/scribe has been more particular with the symmetry of the illumination, clearly marking the centre line for the placement of the figure.
In the Book of Mulling on folio 73r a faint line can be found that marks the position of the right column of text.
Christopher de Hamel, Medieval Craftsmen. Scribes and Illuminator The British Museum Press 1992
Susie Bioletti, Keeper of Preservation and Conservation
Described by Francoise Henry and Geneviève Marsh-Michele as ‘disconcerting’ the illumination of folio 1r of the Garland of Howth presents particular iconographical puzzles.
The folio contains the opening letters of Matt. 1.18 ‘χρι autem gener’ (see previous post).1
The lettering of the χρι is formed by fine interlace strands at the top left of the page, with the subsequent letters, in rectilinear display script, organised within along the right side of the page. The remainder of the page is dominated by four figures contained within a cross-shaped framework – a seated figure with a book, a seated figure with a sword, and two angels above. Most scholars have concurred that the figure on the bottom left is ‘probably Matthew’, but have expressed uncertainty about the figure on the right, while Isabel Henderson has suggested that the figures represent David and Abraham below, and Isiah and the Angel above, so acting to illustrate the missing text of the genealogy of Christ that opens Matthew’s gospel.2
The use of colour in Early Irish Manuscripts can give clues about the resources available during the creation of the manuscripts, the skills of the illuminators, and the traditions of the community.
As we continue with our pigment analysis we have now commenced X-Ray fluorescence analysis of the illuminations and elaborated initials in our four manuscripts. This technique like Raman spectroscopy (see previous post) can, with the right equipment, be used in-situ directly on a manuscript without risk of damage, and similarly has a long history of use for the identification of pigments.1
One of the most spectacular displays of ornamented text in early Irish manuscripts is the Chi-Rho page in the Book of Kells (fig. 1). These elaborately decorated initials are found not only in luxury volumes such as the Book of Kells, the Lindisfarne Gospels (fig. 2a), the Codex Aureus (fig. 2b) and the Lichfield Gospels (fig. 2c), but also in Irish pocket Gospels like our Book of Mulling (see previous post) and Book of Dimma (see previous post).
Margaret McNair Stokes (1832-1900) claims the attention of the Early Irish Manuscripts Project for the drawings she made of the paintings in the Garland of Howth (see previous post ). These, along with many other illustrations that she produced of Irish painting and sculpture from the early Middle Ages provided scholars with detailed images of Irish material to which they may otherwise have had little or no access. While she is increasingly recognized for her contributions to the study of medieval Irish manuscripts and monuments, her name is far less well-known than it deserves to be.
The event was off to an exciting start with papers from the Trinity College Dublin conservation team. Susie Bioletti, Allyson Smith (see previous post) and Marco Di Bella (see previous post) presented the work they have been doing on our project manuscripts. The application of scientific analysis to manuscripts continued in Bill Enders’ paper where he demonstrated the value of imaging manuscripts over time. Bernard Meehan discussed the bindings of the Book of Mulling (see previous post), and how recent technologies have brought greater clarity to the more damaged pages of the manuscript.
In the past weeks the Garland of Howth (MS 56) has returned to centre stage, this time for careful examination with Raman lasers. This is one of two non-invasive analytic techniques we have available in the conservation department; we will report on the second, x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF), in the coming weeks.
We are using this type of analysis because it can be safely used in-situ to determine which pigments have been used in making the Garland of Howth. The procedure, called micro-Raman spectroscopy, uses lasers of specific wavelengths to excite the molecular bonds in the material. The energy returned to the detectors provides a fingerprint of the constituents under the beam.
We are pleased to announce that all four of the Gospel books that are part of the Early Irish Manuscripts Project will be on display for a short period on Friday, 6 May. Delegates of The Wandering Word conference will have the rare opportunity to see Codex Ussherianus Primus, the Book of Dimma, the Book of Mulling, and the Garland of Howth.
To view the full conference programme, please visit our website. Booking is essential. Online booking is available via our registration page.
Early Insular Gospel Books are typically named either after the saint with whom they are associated (as the Books of Dimma and Mulling), or the place where they are thought to have been made (as the Books of Durrow, Kells and Armagh). In a number of cases colophons (dedicatory inscriptions) can assist in tracing the ultimate origins or authorship of a book, while in others, the addition of material such as the eleventh- and twelfth-century legal transcriptions in the Book of Kells can help to establish if not where a book was made, at least where it was at a certain point in the distant past.
There are many treasures in the Library at Trinity College Dublin. Most are known to scholars and experts; a few, like the Book of Kells and the Book of Durrow, are recognized more widely. It is rare then, that a manuscript largely unknown to researchers and the public alike, is brought to light. This year, the Early Irish Manuscripts Project brings forward a hidden gem, a digital version of the Garland of Howth. See the full manuscript here.