I live in Melbourne Australia and have had a long interest in insular Celtic art from 1974 when I undertook a two year post-doctoral fellowship in Chemistry at the University of Aberdeen. I spent my later career as an industrial scientist and that included research into the optical effects of coloured pigments on paper substrates. I have long wanted to reproduce some of the carpet and initia pages from the books of Durrow, Kells and Lindisfarne in modern watercolours and inks as an homage to the original illuminators to discover how these pages might have looked before the ravages of 1,200 years took their toll. Some chromolithographs of this type were published by Professor J. O. Westwood and Miss Margaret Stokes in the late 19th century so I have decided to take a further perhaps heretical step in my own practice by filling some of the areas that the original illuminators painted with yellow orpiment with gesso and 24 carat gold leaf. I hope you enjoy the results of my heresy.
List of contributions
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.
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.