The Book of Durrow (in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin) is the oldest specimen of Celtic illumination and, if not the work of St. Columcille, is certainly of as early a date. Each of the Gospels opens with a beautiful initial succeeded by letters of gradually diminishing size, and there are full page decorations embodying such subjects as the symbols of the Evangelists. The colors are rich and vivid and all the designs are of the purest and most Celtic character.
The Gospels of MacRegol (now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford) is the work of an Abbot of Birr who died A.D. 820. It is a volume of unusually large size, copiously ornamented with masterly designs and containing illuminated portraits of Saints Mark, Luke, and John. The first part of the book with the portrait of St. Matthew is missing. The Book of Kells (in the Library of T.C.D.) is the all-surpassing masterpiece of Celtic illuminative art and is acknowledged to be the most beautiful book in the world. This copy of the four Gospels was long deemed to have been made by the saintly hands of Columcille, though it probably belongs to the eighth century. Into its pages are woven such a wealth of ornament, such an ecstasy of art, and such a miracle of design that the book is today not only one of Ireland’s greatest glories but one of the world’s wonders. After twelve centuries the ink is as black and lustrous and the colors are as fresh and soft as though but the work of yesterday. The whole range of colors is there—green, blue, crimson, scarlet, yellow, purple, violet—and the same color is at times varied in tone and depth and shade, thereby achieving a more exquisite combination and effect. In addition to the numerous decorative pages and marvellous initials, there are portraits of the Evangelists and full-page miniatures of the Temptation of Christ, His Seizure by the Jews, and the Madonna and Child surrounded by Angels with censers. Exceptionally beautiful are these angels and other angelic figures throughout the book, their wings shining with glowing colors amid woven patterns of graceful design. The portraits and miniatures and the numerous faces centred in initial letters are not to be adjudged by the standard of anatomical drawing and delineation of the human figure, but rather by their effect as