Designing the Secret of Kells, by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, with a foreword by Charles Solomon (Trinquétte Publishing, 2014)
For historians and curators, the imaginative recreation of the past presents particular, but frequently unacknowledged, difficulties. The skills needed to establish chronologies, or to tease out the causation behind historical events, or to make academic judgements about works of art, are quite different from those needed to convince an audience of the reality of the past. For this, works like Michael Crichton’s Timeline, or the movie of The Name of the Rose, allow us to glimpse a remote physical and intellectual past. In the animated film The Secret of Kells, nominated for an Oscar award in 2009, the atmosphere of Ireland’s medieval monasteries and their famous artistic output is captured brilliantly by Cartoon Saloon of Kilkenny. Dwelling on the turbulence of the times, the film reveals a monastic world which is both open to visitors from abroad yet at risk from outside forces. In its inspired artistic asides, it mirrors the extraordinary qualities of the Book of Kells itself and seems to follow in a technical line from the work of the stained-glass artist Harry Clarke. When snow falls on the monastery, individual flakes take the form of crosses drawn in a myriad of designs. Such scenes call for repeated viewings and live long in the memory.
In this new publication, Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart of Cartoon Saloon explain how they did it, and, of equal interest, they say who did what. We learn that Ross Stewart designed the scriptorium at Iona, that Tomm Moore devised the individual characters in the scriptorium, one of them a tribute to the actor Mick Lally, who played Brother Aidan and died in 2010, shortly after the release of the film, and that Adrien Merigeau was responsible for a different realisation of the scriptorium. Many a scholar of the Book of Kells would wish for such a guide.
At the beginning of the new term we reflect on a hectic summer which kicked off with the visit of Michelle, Malia and Sasha Obama on 17 June; a special exhibition on Obama family history was on display for the occasion. Also in June, Bernard Meehan, Keeper of Manuscripts spoke about the Book of Kells as part of the Derry/Londonderry City of Culture events and also delivered a lecture at the Hay Literary Festival held in Kells on 28 June.
The Library has an on-going arrangement in relation to the annual Samuel Beckett Summer School run by the Department of Drama Film and Music. As well as curating an exhibition specifically to tie in with the School, M&ARL hosted one of the School’s teaching sessions to permit attendees to have access to original Beckett literary material.
Another regular event was the return of the annual Irish Harp Summer School. The Library is home to two early examples of the traditional Irish harp: the so-called ‘Brian Boru Harp’, which is on permanent display in the Long Room, and the less well-known Castle Otway Harp.
Further classes held during the summer included a talk for Trinity College Library colleagues on the surprising variety of objects within the M&ARL collection.
We are always delighted to hear about publications using M&ARL collections. One such author, historian Gill Morris from Tasmania, visited the Library on 6 August to present us with a copy of her book on the Revd Dr William Henry Browne, A Trinity College graduate, who left Cork for Van Diemen’s Land, Tasmania in 1828.
It is also not unusual to see M&ARL manuscripts featured on TV and earlier this summer the BBC filmed the 1641 depositions for inclusion in The Stuarts which should air at the end of this year.
All of this outreach activity continued smoothly despite the fact that the summertime tends to be the busiest time for M&ARL. Add to that a major refurbishment of the Reading Room during July and August and it all made for a hectic summer.
The staff in Early Printed Books, M&ARL and Preservation & Conservation are well used to being called on to curate once-off exhibitions to welcome special visitors and the visitors on Monday 17 June certainly were special. The arrival of the Obama family, which shut down the city centre, was marked in the Long Room with a small but perfectly-formed display of carefully chosen items.
First of all Mrs Obama and her daughters Sasha and Malia had the opportunity to see the Preservation & Conservation Department assistants working on the Pollard Collection of children’s books, one of the Library’s great resources, the bequest of a former Keeper.
Then they examined the specially-curated exhibition which was made possible by the generous co-operation of two of the Library’s sister institutions. The Representative Church Body Library (with the agreement of the National Archives) lent some parish registers recording the birth, marriage and death of various members of the Kearney family (one of whom was named Triphenia) who are believed to have been Barack Obama’s Irish antecedents; and the National Library lent a map of the lands in Co Offaly from which the Kearneys sprang. The other items in the display were hand-coloured prints from EPB’s own collection, and a portrait of John Kearney, Provost from 1799-1806, from the College art collection.’
It was a very enjoyable inter-departmental and inter-institutional collaboration which did the Library proud. Thanks to theobamadiary.com for the images capturing the historic visit. – Shane Mawe & Jane Maxwell
The Book of Kells folio 27v is among the most frequently reproduced pages from that famous manuscript. Its main images depict the symbols of the four Evangelists: Matthew is represented by the Man, Mark by the Lion, Luke by the Calf, and John by the Eagle. The symbols have haloes and wings, a double set in the case of the Calf. The symbol of Matthew holds a flabellum, an instrument used in the early church to protect the Eucharist and its vessels from impurities. The Eagle perches on a footstool. The symbols are in framed panels around a cross, with another, stepped cross at its centre. Interlaced snakes writhe in four T-shaped panels at each extremity of the cross. In the corner pieces at the top right and lower left of the frame, a Eucharistic chalice sprouts vine tendrils which are bitten by perching peacocks. Interlaced human figures are compressed within the corresponding corner-pieces at the top left and lower right of the frame. In the box lower right, four figures stand within the confines of their frame, their necks unnaturally elongated and their heads hanging down in what may be intended to recall the Crucifixion. In the box at the top left of the page are four men with red triangles on their cheeks; with knees bent, they pull each other’s beards.