Category Archives: Art History

Launch of the Digital Garland of Howth

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.

Inscribed on the 86 folios of the codex are the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. As with other Insular Gospel books, Continue reading Launch of the Digital Garland of Howth

The Garland of Howth

The Garland of Howth (TCD MS 56) is larger than the Book of Mulling and the Book of Dimma,1 and thus  does not fall within the category of the  so-called ‘Pocket Gospel Book’, a typically Insular  phenomenon to which I shall return in a future post. Unfortunately only two illuminated Gospel openings have survived out of the four, as the beginnings of Saint Luke and Saint John are now lost, but what remains is wonderfully intricate and idiosyncratic.

The Garland of Howth, 8th-9th century, TCD MS 56, f. 22r © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.

The manuscript takes its name from a tradition according to which it was found on Ireland’s Eye, an island north of Howth, and later brought to Howth on the mainland.

As you can see from the images on this page, it is rather damaged, but it is also one of the most intriguing manuscripts of the group, as it has barely been studied. This is not all that surprising given that, as a high grade manuscript, it is difficult to access, and one cannot rely on existing images, as they are scarce and of poor quality.  This will soon change dramatically, as it is going to be fully digitised and published online. We will give you a preview of the new images as soon as we start. We will also be carrying out pigment analysis on this manuscript, using micro-Raman spectroscopy, which should yield interesting results and complement the analyses carried out on other early Irish manuscripts.

Catherine Yvard, Research Fellow

The Book of Dimma

The Book of Dimma (TCD MS 59) is a small volume that contains the four Gospels as well as a few later additions, and was probably made in the late 8th century at Roscrea, a monastery founded in the 7th century .

Just as the Book of Mulling was not  written by Mulling (see previous post), the Book of Dimma was not written by Dimma.

The Book of Dimma, late 8th century (TCD, MS 59, p. 104) © The Library of Trinity College Dublin.
The Book of Dimma, late 8th century, TCD MS 59, p. 104 © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.

The name Dimma appears on several pages at the end of three Gospels (pp. 29, 52 and 148), but in each case it was written  over an erasure. The reason for the alteration would have been to enhance the holy nature of the book by connecting it to an episode from the life of Saint Crónán (d. 619), the founder of the Roscrea monastery. According to the legend, Crónán asked a scribe called Dimma to produce a copy of the Gospels for him, demanding it to be ready by the next day. Dimma succeeded in this impossible task, as the sun miraculously did not set for the next forty days.

Whoever wrote the name of Dimma over that of the original scribe wished to transform this manuscript into the famous Gospels; the alteration was probably made at Roscrea in the late 10th or 11th century. Luckily, one colophon was left intact, on p. 103, revealing the original name of Dianchride, a name that occurs in the genealogy of the Uí Chorcrain, who had a branch based in the northern part of Tipperary.

Catherine Yvard, Research Fellow

The Book of Mulling

According to a colophon, this Gospel Book was written by a scribe called Mulling, hence its name. Early on, the said scribe was identified as Saint Moling (d. c. 697), Bishop of Ferns and founder of the monastery of Tech-Moling in county Carlow (St. Mullin’s). But this appealing hypothesis was soon contradicted by a close examination of the script and illumination, which pointed to the late 8th century rather than to a century earlier. It followed that, as is the case for many other medieval manuscripts, the colophon was certainly copied from an earlier exemplar.

The Book of Mulling, 2nd half of the 8th century, TCD MS 60, ff. 81v-82r © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.

The Book of Mulling (TCD MS 60) contains the four Gospels, each originally introduced by an author portrait and an elaborate initial on the facing page (see image above). The miniature of Saint Luke is now lost, but all other three openings are extant. It ends with an intriguing  diagram which was formerly believed to be a plan of the monastery of Tech-Moling, but has been more recently re-interpreted in the light of its relationship to the prayers it accompanies.

The present modern binding of the manuscript, which is too tight, will be addressed in the conservation treatment. Non-destructive pigment analysis, using micro-Raman spectroscopy, will be carried out on this book as well as on the two other illuminated manuscripts under scrutiny: the Book of Dimma and the Garland of Howth.

Catherine Yvard, Research Fellow

Codex Usserianus Primus

I will start by introducing you to the four manuscripts which are the focus of the project.

Codex Usserianus Primus (TCD MS 55), containing the four Gospels, is a controversial citizen of the Library, as scholars do not  agree on when it was made, and the where  is also much debated. One might say  that this is true of nearly  all  Insular manuscripts, but this particular one is a case in point in that expert opinions differ by several  centuries.

Codex Usserianus Primus, TCD MS 55, f. 149v © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.

For a long time believed to have been made in the early 7th century in Ireland or  Bobbio, the abbey founded in  614 by the Irish missionary Columbanus, David Dumville has more recently argued in favour of a 5th-century date and a continental origin. 1 The dating and localisation of the manuscript are largely based on  palaeographical and codicological evidence, as  the manuscript, in a fragmentary state, only contains one extant decoration in the shape of a framed cross marking the end of Saint Luke’s Gospel and the beginning of Saint Mark’s (see fig.).

The modern mounts were far from satisfying: too heavy, they obscure certain parts of the text, and do not allow the parchment enough flexibility. Each one of the 182 leaves is  therefore currently being remounted in our Conservation studios using a system which will greatly improve the manuscript’s preservation and legibility.  The manuscript  has now been fully re-photographed and published online.

Catherine Yvard, Research Fellow Save


Launch of the Early Irish Manuscripts Project at Trinity College Dublin

The Library of Trinity College Dublin, in partnership with the Department of History of Art and Architecture, has received generous support from  Bank of America Merrill Lynch Art Conservation Project to fund an exciting project focused on four of the most important early medieval insular Gospel Books in the Library.

This blog will tell you all about these manuscripts and will keep you posted on our progress and discoveries.

The Book of Dimma, late 8th century, TCD MS 59, pp. 104-105 © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.

The manuscripts in question are :

  • Codex Usserianus Primus, 5th or 7th century (TCD MS 55)
  • the Book of Dimma, late 8th century  (TCD MS 59)
  • the Book of Mulling, 2nd half of the 8th century (TCD MS 60)
  • the Garland of Howth, 8th-9th century (TCD MS 56)

We will be looking at them from many different angles. The TCD conservation team will focus on preservation and technical examination, including non-destructive pigment analysis. Their findings will complement recent results achieved for the Book of Kells, the Book of Durrow and the Book of Armagh, using micro-Raman spectroscopy.

Two of the manuscripts (Dimma and Mulling) are sitting rather uncomfortably in their mid-20th-century bindings, so this  will be addressed in the conservation treatment, along with a close examination of their codicological  structure.

The manuscripts will also be studied from an art historical perspective, the Garland of Howth in particular has barely been researched, so this should lead to significant discoveries.

And last but not least, they will be fully digitised and  accessible online, so that everyone can have a chance to turn their pages.

Catherine Yvard, Research Fellow