World’s Most Famous Medieval Illuminated Manuscript Now Viewable Online

Books from the Middle Ages

Photo: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

In the world of Medieval illuminated manuscripts, there's one work that sits above the rest. The Book of Kells is not only the finest existing work of its kind, it's also an Irish national treasure. Believed to have been created around 800 CE, the work is on permanent display at Trinity College Library in Dublin. But now you can see it in close detail without ever setting foot on Irish soil (or even leaving home).

As part of a digitization project, the pages of the manuscript have been rescanned and are now available online. This effort by Trinity College Library allows anyone to zoom in and enjoy the rich details of the Book of Kells, which has long been revered for its miniatures and full-page illuminations. The lavish illustrations are of much higher quality and have a wider palette than similar manuscripts of the period.

The Books of Kells, which contains the four Gospels of the New Testament, has a rich decorative scheme known for its detail and dynamic compositions. While many other Insular Gospels of the period use a reduced palette of colors, yellow and red ochre, indigo, green copper pigment, as well as lilac and violet are some of the dominant pigments and colors in this spectacular work. The manuscript takes its name from the Abbey of Kells, where it was housed for centuries, and has undergone meticulous conservation and preservation efforts to keep the work in top condition.

Originally created via traditional techniques that include the use of parchment made from calfskin, the Book of Kells has been rebound at least five times to keep it in good condition.  “In its original form the Book of Kells was both thicker and larger,” writes Erika Harlitz-Kern. “Thirty folios of the original manuscript have been lost through the centuries and the edges of the existing manuscript were severely trimmed during a rebinding in the nineteenth century.”

The world's most famous Medieval illuminated manuscript, the Book of Kells, has been digitized and can be viewed online.

The Book of Kells at Trinity College Dublin

Photo: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

World's Most Famous Illuminated Manuscript - The Book of Kells

Photo: Public domain via WikiCommons

Learn more about the importance of the Book of Kells from experts at Dublin's Trinity College.

h/t: [Open Culture]

Related Articles:

800 Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts from France and Britain Available Online

Medieval Illuminated Manuscript Exploring the Majesty of Animals Digitized and Placed Online

You Can Virtually Leaf Through This Tiny Persian Manuscript From the 15th Century

These Four Manuscripts Contain Almost All Surviving Old English Poetry

Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
Become a
My Modern Met Member
As a member, you'll join us in our effort to support the arts.
Become a Member
Explore member benefits

Sponsored Content