Conference Abstracts

Susie Bioletti and Allyson Smith: Shining a Light on the Pigments of Early Irish Manuscripts

This paper summarises the significant findings of our analyses of the pigments on Usserianus Primus (TCD MS 55), the Garland of Howth (TCD MS 56), the Book of Dimma (TCD MS 59) and the Book of Mulling (TCD MS 60), using the complementary techniques of X-ray fluorescence and Raman spectroscopy. The simple but distinct palettes will be explored in the context of previous studies of the pigments used during early medieval period in Ireland and a possible tradition in the use of certain materials. This technical study will also consider practical aspects of the possible sources of pigments, to further enrich our understanding of how these illuminated manuscripts were created.

John Gillis and Marco Di Bella: Challenges and Choices: The Conservation of Four Early Irish Manuscripts

The conservation of the four early Irish manuscripts selected for this project was a key component, both for their safe digitisation through minimising risk and allowing future access for research and display. This paper will address specific treatments of the individual manuscripts, and our role in controlling the environment at all stages of imaging. A case study will be presented for Usserianus Primus which was challenging due to its particular condition.

William Endres: Digitally Across Time: Generating Knowledge from 125 Years of Photographs of the St Chad Gospels

 Advances in digital photography present scholars and conservators with tempting choices when digitizing manuscripts. Techniques such as multispectral, hyperspectral and x-ray florescence imaging capture worn and damaged text no longer visible to the unaided eye. Other techniques capture further features of a manuscript’s materiality, such as Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), which provides control over directional lighting and mathematical enhancements for examining surface details. However, these innovations encourage past photographs and their visual information to be overlooked. Even worse, limited space in libraries has encouraged past images to be discarded, especially when new advanced imaging technologies promise to record richer visual information. In this presentation, I will discuss results from my efforts to digitize and compare 125 years of photographs for the St Chad Gospels. These images include photographic methods that would appear to provide limited, if any, value—such as a copy from a 1930s Photostat machine (the precursor to the photocopier). But whether Photostat copy or 19th-century print, once digitized and registered (even loosely in Photoshop), these historical photographs all contribute valuable visual information. They reveals trends in aging and effects from events in a manuscript’s life, from chips of pigment breaking free to losses occurring during conservatory efforts (such as the flattening of pages). When digitized and compared, historical photographs generate irreplaceable knowledge, knowledge that otherwise is beyond knowing.

Carol Farr: Reused, Rescued, Recycled: Art Historical Contexts of the Irish Fragments, St Gall Codex 1395

The manuscript fragments with Irish features that have been bound since 1822 in the miscellany S Gallen Stiftsbibliothek Codex 1395 have wandered through several geographical and codicological locations since first written and drawn in the early middle ages. The usual modern question addressed to them concerns their places of origin: ‘In Ireland or on the Continent?’ Overshadowed by their neighbour in the volume, the earliest manuscript of the Vulgate gospels, and the splendidly decorated gospels book, St Gall 51, the fragments – most of them brutally trimmed single leaves – have not received much art historical attention.

Apparently unnoticed, one bears an inscription having a close palaeographic relationship to a 9th-century script form attributed to the Irish midlands, suggesting origin in Ireland, not on the Continent. Decoration and content of at least three other pages in Codex 1395 have elements supporting Insular origins. No documentation of the original manuscripts’ medieval journeys survives and St Gall’s early catalogues offer little help, but their conditions tell of use and reuse. Moreover, the library’s history offers some hints of their biographies. Ildefonse von Arx probably rescued them from even deeper obscurity or even loss when he bound them with dozens of other manuscript fragments, along with his written comments. I propose a modern art historical, critical recycling of three of the fragments to show relationships to 9th-century manuscripts connected with the Irish midlands and to another wandering manuscript, the Macdurnan Gospels.

Rachel Moss: Itinerant Iconography: Unravelling the Strands of the Garland of Howth

The gospel book known as the Garland of Howth (Dublin, TCD MS 56) has been studied primarily for its textual content. Its two surviving illuminated pages have received only minor attention, with studies to date focussed on the curious iconography of the sword bearing figure amalgamated with the Chi Rho page (fol. 1v) and  comparison with the sword-bearing ‘Matthew’ figure in the Book of Deer. With the aid of recent photography and analysis this paper will reassess both figurative and decorative elements of the manuscript and its broader context in the early medieval period.

Michelle Brown: Hagiography or History? Medieval Approaches to Establishing Origin and Provenance for Insular Copies of Scripture

The earliest references to some of the most famous extant – and lost – Insular manuscripts concern copies of sacred text associated with named figures within the history of the early Christian Church in Ireland and Britain. These include the Three Saints of Ireland, St Cuthbert and St Margaret of Scotland, as well as other founder figures and their successors. This paper will examine some of these references, in the form of colophons, inscriptions and enshrinements, hagiographical and historical accounts, to assess why the biography of books was of particular concern to medieval audiences in these areas

Bernard Meehan: The Book of Mulling: Bindings and ‘Blurrings’

When Charles Vallancey saw the Book of Mulling in 1783, it was a collection of loose gatherings and individual leaves, without a binding, contained in a medieval shrine (now in NMI). By 1894, when it was decided to bind the manuscript, the correct ordering of the leaves was not obvious, and that binding, and a further, supposedly remedial, binding in 1910, did little to clear the confusion regarding the original structure of the book. A rebinding in 1977 made an important correction, but does not reflect the order of the leaves when they were in the shrine. It is not clear if the book was already disarranged when first it was placed in the shrine, or if it was disrupted in the course of the shrine’s subsequent refurbishments.

Inevitably, the manuscript was affected by its enclosure in the shrine. The striking zoomorphic Initium at the opening of the Mark fragment on f. 97r was spared the damage which was suffered, to varying degrees, by the display initials of Gospel texts in the major section of the manuscript: Liber (Matthew 1.1; f. 13r), Christi autem generatio (Matthew 1.18; f. 13v), Initium (Mark 1.1; f. 36r) and Quoniam (Luke 1.1; f. 53r). The opening words of John, In principio (John 1.1; f. 82r) are almost pristine in comparison. Techniques of image enhancement, principally ‘Gaussian blur’, now permit the detail of these initials to be much more visible.

Paul Mullarkey: Keeping our Word: The Book Shrines of Dimma and Mulling and their Relationship with other Manuscripts, Covers and Shrines

There are eight known book shrines from Ireland, two of which survive for manuscripts included in this project: the Book of Dimma (TCD MS 59) and the Book of Mulling (TCD MS 60).

There is also indirect evidence for possible enshrinement of the Codex Usserianus Primus (TCD MS 55) and this will be outlined.  Book shrines do not form a coherent class of reliquaries as their construction varies to accommodate the enclosed manuscript.  Constructional features such as strap fittings and interior wooden cores appear arbitrary while binding strips are common to all. Strap fittings where present may indicate how they were carried when required for liturgical or ceremonial occasions. The lack of these fittings on certain book shrines suggest they may have been transported in a satchel or other such containers.

A brief survey of extant Irish early medieval book covers will be provided and the relationship between manuscript, cover and shrine discussed.   Gatherings from associated manuscripts may have been bound together and covers attached in tandem with enshrinement.  Due to nineteenth-century antiquarian investigations vital constructional evidence from certain book shrines has been either lost or concealed by repairs and restorations. Taking these modifications into account and from detailed examination it appears likely that book shrines, with one notable exception, were designed to be sealed with no access to the enclosed relic.

Heather Pulliam: Breast-hoard: Carrying the Word of God

Insular images frequently depict scribes and monks clutching books to their chests. These figures often hold the books open so that the pages, which sometimes depict script, can be seen by the viewer.  Other examples, such as in the Papil cross-slab, show monks clearly ‘on the move’, with book satchels worn over their chests. In 1990, Eric Jager used the term ‘pectorality’ to describe a common trope in Old English literature wherein words were described as treasures to be protected within the store-room of the heart or chest. Similarly, Jennifer O’Reilly’s ‘Library of the Scriptures’ and Mary Carruther’s Book of Memory have explored the ways in which the Latin term ‘arca’, like its modern English equivalent (chest), could refer either to the torso of a human body or to a trunk used for storage.  Noting the frequent abstract, ornamental emphasis upon figures’ chests in Insular art, this paper explores whether such decoration, might be understood as a visual expression of ‘pectorality’, showing the Word of God carried in and on the bodies of the faithful.

Tim O’Neill: Initial Wanderings

Two important articles by Françoise Henry written over 50 years ago systematically looked at aspects of manuscript decoration concentrating on eleventh and twelfth century manuscripts: ‘Remarks on the Decoration of Three Irish Psalters’ in PRIA 61, C 2, 1960 and, with G. L. Marsh-Micheli, ‘A century of Irish Illumination (1070 – 1170)’ in PRIA 62, C5, 1962. These studies focussed on the smaller initials and sought to find their origins in earlier manuscripts. She loosely categorised two main types of initial letter used by Irish scribes, those composed of ‘wire’ forms and those of ‘ribbon’ forms.

In this paper I will look briefly at the function of initials and show how drawn letters are related to, but remain essentially different from, scripted forms. I will look at how initials relate to majuscule and minuscule letter forms and how they seem to migrate effortlessly from Latin to Irish manuscripts. From the finely-drawn examples in the twelfth century the same wire and ribbon forms continued to be copied less successfully in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, with minor additions borrowed from Gothic manuscripts.

Did the learned families who produced the later medieval compilations in Irish have access to fragments of earlier Latin manuscripts, perhaps the remains of old monastic libraries? Were these initials used centuries later for aristocratic patrons as visual echoes of artistic glories to match the great deeds of ancestral saints and heroes?

Francis Newton: Unstudied Fragments of a Latin Gospel Book in Insular Half-Uncial

Three small pieces of a manuscript written in an Insular hand, in Half-Uncial, have been discovered in a German library (Berlin (Dahlem), Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz  XXHA, HS. Nr. 84, 71, a,b,c); the fragments fit together and clearly survive because formerly used as binding-strips.  When laid side-by-side, the pieces preserve most of two lines from Luke 13 on the recto, and the same amount from the same text on the verso.  The survival of the script on both sides enables the student to reconstruct the mise-en-page and, very closely, its dimensions.  The book, when whole, would have had the same writing space as the Book of Kells, or even a little larger.  As for the script, among extant Gospel Books it most closely resembles the script of Kells.  No major decoration survives, but the small initials also resemble those of Kells.  Brief as the text is, it preserves one variant reading that is (so far as is known now) uniquely Insular; it links the new fragments to the MacRegol Gospels and, secondarily, to the Echternach Gospels.  It is notable that what is preserved of a book so thoroughly Insular should have been recovered in Germany.

Mark Stansbury: Wandering Hands: Usserianus Primus and the Movements of Scripts

The script of Usserianus Primus (Dublin, TCD, MS 55) has been studied as one of the earliest examples of Insular script, most recently by Gifford Charles-Edwards, who looked at its script in relation to those of the Springmount Bog Tablets and Welsh inscriptions. This paper will look at the script of Usserianus Primus against the background of other late-antique manuscripts in order to highlight ways that it adopts features from them and then adapts them. The basis for this examination will be a detailed analysis of the script’s ductus and use of ligatures. Finally, the paper will address the larger questions of how scripts ‘move’ and change.

Dáibhí Ó Crónín: The Earliest Echternach Liturgical Manuscript Fragments: Irish or Anglo-Saxon?

Abstract: The Paris fragments of liturgical texts from the monastery of Echternach (Luxembourg) are amongst the oldest such liturgical texts to survive from the early Insular churches. Although the texts have been claimed as evidence for the liturgical practices of the Anglo-Saxon (specifically Northumbrian) church, that attribution is open to question. This paper will re-examine the palaeographical, codicological and other features of the fragments, comparing them with the earliest witnesses from the Irish Church.

David Dumville: A Lifelong Dedication? A Gaelic Scholar and his Pet Manuscript in Carolingian Europe

Bern, Burgerbibliothek, MS. 363 is an extraordinary, but not a pretty, ninth‑century book, which was facsimiled by Hermann Hagen in 1897.  It is in one sense a substantial mediaeval gateway to Classical literature and learning, prized initially (from around 1840) in modern scholarship for its Horace‑texts.  Publication about it over the course of the twentieth century was notably sporadic and various, even though its importance was widely acknowledged.  It is undoubtedly the work of a Gaelic scholar: both Irish and Scottish affiliations are evident (and, among the Scottish elements, we see knowledge of Old Brittonic and Old English).  The manuscript is largely holograph.  The principal texts were transcribed in a single Insular hand, albeit influenced by Italian Caroline minuscule.  Many marginalia are found in the same hand, but with cruder, broader strokes.  Among these marginalia are repeated references to persons with Gaelic names, and some of those referred to seem to have been notable Gaelic scholars.

There are intriguing palaeographical links to other Gaelic manuscripts of Continental provenance (but often unknown origin).  There is some use of Greek, some use of the Gaelic vernacular.  At the end of the book are praise‑poems in Latin, recently composed about notable persons, mostly in northern Italy.

We see the author of the book as well connected in Gaelic and native Continental circles.  It seems likely that the participants in this book travelled widely, learnt much, perhaps taught a lot, and remained in touch with networks of scholars in/from their Insular homelands.

Joanna Story: Insular Manuscripts: Continental Connections

There are about 500 extant Insular manuscripts, complete or fragmentary, surviving in libraries around the world. Of these, only 22% are preserved in collections in the UK or Ireland; the rest are housed in libraries on the European continent, with a few (c. 3%) in Russia and the USA. Some of the books now in continental collections undoubtedly originated in scriptoria in Anglo-Saxon England or Ireland before being exported overseas not all that long after they were written. Many more were made in scriptoria on the continent in monasteries founded by English or Irish missionaries, using scripts and methods of making that reflected the practices of the ‘homeland’ and which are diagnostic and dateable. The modern location of these manuscripts in 14 countries presents a contemporary, international knowledge exchange network analogous to the medieval one reflected by the surviving manuscripts. Thus, the history of Insular book production, and the modern study of them, is a European one, which reflects the profound contribution of England and Ireland to European learning in the early Middle Ages.

Some of these manuscripts are very well studied, and stand proud among the masterpieces of medieval European culture; but it is rare that we consider the corpus as a whole, which is large enough to be a meaningful statistical sample. This paper aims to stimulate discussion about ways in which scholars can study and map Insular manuscripts on the micro-level of an individual book and the macro-level of the whole corpus to explore the intellectual networks that linked people and places across early medieval Europe.