Page images

bell (shrine] was made, and for Domnall, successor of Patrick, by whom it was made, and for Cathalan Ua Maelchallann, the keeper of the bell, and for Cudulig Ua Inmainen with his sons, who fashioned it." The whole is executed in a very fine manner and is the most beautiful object of its kind in existence. Another beautiful shrine, known as the Cross of Cong, made to enshrine a piece of the true cross presented by the pope in 1123, was made for King Turlogh O'Conor at about that date. It is 2 feet 6 inches high and 1 foot 634 inches wide. It is made of oak cased with copper and enriched with ornaments of gilded bronze. The ornamentation is of the typical Irish type, as on the Ardagh Chalice and the Shrine of St. Patrick's Bell. A quartz crystal set in the centre of the front of the cross probably held the relic.

It is clear from the succession of beautiful work executed from the eighth to the twelfth century, that there must have existed in Ireland during that period a school of workers in metal such as has seldom been equalled by any individual worker or guild before or since, and never excelled. The examples described are only the more famous of the remains of early Irish Christian art in metal, but they are surrounded by numerous examples of pins, brooches, and shrines, each worthy to rank with the finest productions of the metalworker. The Shrine of St. Moedoc (date uncertain) ought perhaps to be mentioned. On it are found several figures, including three nuns, men with books, sceptres, and swords, and a lifelike figure of a harper.

Besides articles of ornament, articles of use, such as bits for horses and household utensils, have been found, which show that the Irish smiths were as well able to produce articles for every-day use as the artificers were to create works of art in metal.

With the landing of the English in 1169 the arts and sciences in Ireland declined. Indeed, from that time on and for long afterwards, almost the only metalworkers needed were makers of arms and weapons of offense and defense.


British Museum, Bronze Age Guide; Coffey : Bronze Age in Ireland; Allen: Celtic Art; Abercrombie : Bronze Age Pottery; Wilde: Catalogue of the Royal Irish Academy's Collection; Allen: Christian Symbolism; Stokes : Christian Art in Ireland ; Petrie: Ecclesiastical Architecture in Ireland; Coffey: Guide to the Celtic Antiquities of the Christian Period perserved in the National Museum, Dublin; Kane: Industrial Resources of Ireland ; O'Curry: Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish ; Coffey: New Grange and other incised Tumuli in Ireland; Dechelette: Manuel d'Archéologie pré-historique; Ridgeway: Origin of Currency and Weight Standards.

By Louis ELY O'CARROLL, B. A., B. L.

N the dark ages of Europe, whilst new civilizations were in

the making and all was unrest, art and religion, like the lamp of the sanctuary, burned brightly and steadily in Ireland, and their rays penetrated the outer gloom. Scattered through the libraries of Europe are the priceless manuscripts limned by Irish scribes. The earliest missionaries to the continent, disciples of St. Columbanus and St. Gall, doubtless brought with them into exile beautiful books which they or their brothers of the parent monastery had wrought in a labor of love; or mayhap many a monk crossed the seas bearing the treasured volumes into hiding from the spoiling hands of the Dane. Yet, fortunately, in the island home where their beauty was born the most superb volumes still remain.

From almost prehistoric times the Irish were skilled artificers in gold and bronze, and, at the advent of Christianity, had already evolved and perfected that unique system of geometrical ornament which is known as Celtic design. The original and essential features of this system consisted in the use of spirals and interlacing strapwork, but later on this type was developed by transforming the geometrical fret into a scheme of imaginary or nondescript animals, portions of which, such as the tails and ears, were prolonged and woven in exquisite fancy through the border. The artistic features of Celtic book decoration consist chiefly of initial letters of this nature embellished with color. Amongst the ancient Irish there was a keen knowledge of color and an exceptional appreciation of color values. Thus it was that in the early centuries of Christian Ireland the learned monks, transcribing the Gospels and longing to make the book beautiful, were able to bring to their task an artistic skill which was hereditary and almost instinctive. The colors which they used were mostly derived from mineral substances and the black was carbon, made, it is conjectured, from charred fish-bones; but with them was combined some gummy material which made them cling softly to the vellum and has held for us their lustre for more than a thousand years. It is noteworthy that neither gold nor silver was used for book decoration, and this would appear to be a deliberate avoidance of the glitter and glare which distinguish eastern art.

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 allsurpassing 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 part of a scheme of ornamentation ; for the Celtic illuminator was imaginative rather than realistic, and aimed altogether at achieving beauty by means of color and design. The Book of Kells is the Mecca of the illuminative artist, but it is the despair of the copyist. The patience and skill of the olden scribe have baffled the imitator; for, on an examination with a magnifying glass, it has been found that, in a space of a quarter of an inch, there are no fewer than a hundred and fifty-eight interlacements of a ribbon pattern of white lines edged by black ones on a black ground. Surely this is the manuscript which was shown to Giraldus Cambrensis towards the close of the twelfth century and of whose illuminations he speaks with glowing enthusiasm; "they were,” he says, “supposed to have been produced by the direction of an angel at the prayer of St. Brigid.”

The Gospels of MacDurnan (now in the Archbishop's Library at Lambeth) is a small and beautiful volume which was executed by an abbot of Armagh who died in the year 891. A full-page picture of the Evangelist precedes each Gospel, and a composite border frames each miniature in a bewildering pattern of intertwining strapwork and wonderful designs of imaginary beasts. Ornamental capitals and rich borders give a special beauty to the initial pages of the Gospels.

The Book of Armagh (in the Library of T. C. D.) was carefully guarded and specially venerated through the ages in the erroneous belief that it was in part the handiwork of St. Patrick. It was written about the year 800, and would appear to have been copied from documents actually written by the patron saint of Ireland. The book is exceptionally interesting by reason of the fact that it contains St. Patrick's Confession, that beautiful story of how he found his mission, how the captive grew to love his captors, and how, after his escape, he came back to them bearing the lamp of Holy Faith. Although the ornamentation of the manuscript is infrequent,

« PreviousContinue »