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Art and meaning in the Book of Kells

This video will introduce the meaning of art in the Book of Kells.

Everybody looks at and understands images slightly differently. The images in the Book of Kells are no different. Your first impression when you see one of the more densely painted pages of the Book may be simply of the overall form – a figure staring out from the page, or a giant letter emerging from a tangle of pattern. But the longer you look, the more you will see and wonder what it all means.

The art of the Book of Kells combines two traditions current in Christian art of the early medieval period. One, which engaged images of holy figures to tell a story, or convey a certain idea, the other, which used symbolic means. Just as scholars of the Bible were encouraged to meditate on its text, the scale and density of decoration in the Book of Kells was probably intended to perplex, and to encourage the reader to stop and meditate on the meaning, or meanings, that it held.

Coming up

This week we will be exploring a range of different illustrations within the Book of Kells including symbols, animals, and religious imagery. At the end of the week, we will be asking you to interpret a page from the Book.

Don’t forget to consult the glossary which explains some of the key terms used in the course.

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The Book of Kells: Exploring an Irish Medieval Masterpiece

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