Re-imaging the Book of Durrow

The work is a reproduction of the opening double page of St John’s Gospel in the Book of Durrow. I have created the work on rag paper using archival watercolours, acrylic ink with added gesso and 24 carat gold leaf embellishment aimed at giving the modern viewer an appreciation of the. wonder and awe with which 7th and 8th century readers of the manuscript must have held the pages.

Re-imaging the Book of Durrow: the opening double pages of Luke’s Gospel

It is difficult for people in the 21st century, routinely surrounded by colours of every hue, to imagine how the sight of the Book of Durrow would have affected viewers in the late 600s AD. I have attempted to convey some of this wonder by recreating pages in watercolour and ink using modern lightfast organic pigments augmented with raised gesso and 24 carat gold leaf in the manner of later medieval illuminated manuscripts.

While this treatment may seem like heresy to some, I argue that my own experience when I first witnessed the transformation that the addition of polished gold brought to the designs was a valuable addition to my understanding of the experiences of 7th century and later early medieval viewers of these books. The addition of polished gold leaf not only adds the experience of ‘the Light of the World’ reflecting out of each page, but it also helps tie the designs more firmly to the Eastern manuscript traditions of Byzantine and Greek Orthodox religious art.

Re-imagining Luke’s Incipit Pages in the Book of Durrow

This is a further attempt at reproducing a double page illumination from the Book of Durrow in modern organic watercolour pigments similar in tone to how the pages might have looked when first illuminated back around 680 AD.

I have again embellished some areas of the illumination with raised gesso and 24 carat gold leaf in an attempt to give modern eyes the sense of awe and wonder that the original manuscript might have induced in the world of mainly muted tones in the 7th century.