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The Book of Durrow f.21v

Late 7th Century

The Library of Trinity College Dublin

The Library of Trinity College Dublin
Dublin, Ireland

The Book of Durrow (Dublin TCD MS 57; formerly MS A.4.5) is one of the earliest surviving illuminated Gospel books in Western Europe. Dated primarily on palaeographic and artistic grounds to between AD650 and 700, it is almost certainly the work of a single scribe who belonged to one of the churches of the Columban affiliation. Its exact provenance has been subject of much debate, with Durrow, Co. Offaly, Iona in Western Scotland and Lindisfarne in Northumbria the main contenders. Written in clear insular majuscule script, and measuring 245 x 145 mm, the manuscript was most likely originally intended for liturgical use. It is apparently almost completely intact, containing 248 folios, or 496 pages - 11 pages of pure ornamentation and 476 of text, with 9 (originally) left blank. The ornamented pages are particularly celebrated for their pared back aesthetic, limited but vibrant colour range and the apparently eclectic range of sources from which the scribe/ artist drew his inspiration. The Celtic-, Anglo-Saxon- and Coptic/ southern Mediterranean-inspired motifs found on different pages of the Book of Durrow were subsequently to form the building blocks of the Insular art style that characterises later masterpieces such as the Lindisfarne Gospels and Book of Kells.

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