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Virgin and Child

Virgin and Child

There is only one depiction of a woman in the entire Book of Kells. This is found on folio 7v and is the earliest known, or surviving, image of the Virgin and Child in Western manuscript art.

Contrary to the biblical description of Mary coming from relatively humble origins, here she is shown as an empress, enthroned and wearing the type of clothing associated with royalty. She is surrounded by four ‘courtiers’, in this case replaced by angels. The Christ child is seated on her lap, with his hand placed on the Virgin’s clearly visible breast – an allusion to milk of Christian instruction, and also perhaps the fons vitae – the fountain of life. The elaborate frame around the image is perhaps an allusion to its ultimate source.

The composition and symbolism of the image finds some close parallels in panel paintings of the Virgin and Child from the Byzantine east.

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The Book of Kells: Exploring an Irish Medieval Masterpiece

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