DURHAM, CATHEDRAL LIBRARY MSS A. II.
GOSPEL BOOK (FRAGMENT)
MID 7TH CENTURY
VELLLUM OR PARCHMENT
385x250 mm

Several important features of Insular manuscript decoration are inaugurated in this fragmentary manuscript. It builds on the groundwork laid by the Codex Usserianus Primus and the Cathach of St. Columba. In this text, color is added to the ŽIni' monogram at the beginning of the Gospel of St. Mark. Furthermore, the color is added in a style similar to the traditional Celtic enamel decoration of metalwork. This fragment also contains the earliest example of the use of interlace pattern. While interlace is found in Celtic metalwork, Nordenfalk suggests that it could also be the influence of Coptic, Byzantine, or Italian art.

The 'Ini' monogram's combination of the letters I, N, and I is also a first. This monogram consists of two columnar elements (the I's) joined by two animal forms, which connect the I's to form an N. The I shape on the left resembles a sheathed knife or sword in shape. It has two vertical rows of panels of alternating colors joined by a rope-like line down the center. The I shape on the left is a truncated, columnar version of the one on the left (i.e., it terminates before reaching the point of the sword shape.) This monogram is followed by letters of gradually decreasing size, repeating the diminuendo text found in the Cathach of St. Columba.

The other important illumination in this text is the frame of the colophon at the end of the Gospel of St. Matthew, which is shaped into three D's stacked on top of the other. The D's themselves are outlined in a tightly woven pattern of interlace, which differs slightly in each letter. The spaces left outside the curves of the D's are filled in by interlace knots. An inscription marking the transition from Matthew to Mark is written in the top D; the Lord's Prayer if written in the two lower D's. According to Calkins, the interlace designs of the D's are related to those decorating a stele at Fahun Mura and one at Carndonough, both from the 7th century. Similar designs are also found on a cross in an illuminated Coptic manuscript. The decorative colophon follows the precedent in earlier Gospel books of decorated colophons, which were usually the only decoration they had. (Calkins, 32.)

The two illuminations are currently bound so that they face each other; Calkins suggests that if they were originally bound this way, their juxtaposition could be the predecessor to the incredible 2-page spreads of later manuscripts.

Nordenfalk points out that both the animal forms of the 'ini' monogram and the curve of the D's were drawn with the aide of compasses; the straight backs of the D's were drawn with rulers. This manuscript is the earliest known example in which such tools were used.

The manuscript is believed to have been written in Northumbria by an Irish scribe at the monastery of Lindisfarne.
 

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