Images from the Book of Kells

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Canon Table

Directory to passages in multiple Gospels
Directory to passages in multiple Gospels Canon Table from the Book of Kells. Public Domain

Stunning Illuminations from the Fabulous 8th-Century Book of Gospels

The Book of Kells is a splendid example of medieval manuscript art. Of its 680 surviving pages, only two have no decoration at all. Although most pages have merely a decorated initial or two, there are also many "carpet" pages, portrait pages, and heavily-decorated chapter introductions that have little more than a line or two of text. Most of it is in astonishingly good condition, considering its age and history.

Here are some highlights from the Book of Kells. All images are in the public domain and are free for your use. For more information about the Book of Kells, be sure to visit this introduction by your Guide. 

Canon Tables were devised by Eusebius to indicate which passages are shared in multiple Gospels. The Canon Table above appears on Folio 5 of the Book of Kells. Just for fun, you can solve a jigsaw puzzle of part of this image here at the Medieval History site.

02
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Christ Enthroned

Golden Portrait of Jesus
Golden Portrait of Jesus Christ Enthroned from the Book of Kells. Public Domain

This is one of several portraits of Christ in the Book of Kells. It appears on Folio 32.

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Decorated Initial

A close-up of the book's fine detail
A close-up of the book's fine detail Decorated Initial from the Book of Kells. Public Domain

This detail provides a close view of the craftsmanship that went into inscribing the Book of Kells.

04
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Incipit to the Gospel of Matthew

First page of the Gospel of Matthew
First page of the Gospel of Matthew The Incipit to the Gospel of Matthew. Public Domain

The first page of the Gospel of Matthew contains nothing more than the two words Liber generationis ("The book of the generation"), elaborately decorated, as you can see.

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Portrait of John

Glowing Golden Depiction of the Evangelist
Glowing Golden Depiction of the Evangelist Portrait of John from the Book of Kells. Public Domain

The Book of Kells contains portraits of all the Evangelists as well as of Christ. This portrait of John has a notably intricate border.

Just for fun, try a jigsaw puzzle of this image.

06
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Madonna and Child

Earliest depiction of Mary and Jesus
Earliest depiction of Mary and Jesus Madonna and Child from the Book of Kells. Public Domain

This image of the Madonna and Child surrounded by angels appears on Folio 7 of the Book of Kells. It is the earliest known depiction of the Madonna and Child in western European art.

07
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Four Evangelist Symbols

Symbols for Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
Symbols for Matthew, Mark, Luke and John Symbols of the Four Evangelists. Public Domain

"Carpet Pages" were purely decorative, and were so named for their resemblance to eastern carpets. This carpet page from Folio 27v of the Book of Kells depicts the symbols for the four evangelists: Matthew the Winged Man, Mark the Lion, Luke the Calf (or Bull), and John the Eagle, derived from the vision of Ezekiel.

Just for fun, you can solve a jigsaw puzzle of part of this image here at the Medieval History site.

08
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Incipit to Mark

The First Page to the Gospel of Mark
First Page of the Gospel of Mark Incipit to Mark. Public Domain

Here is another elaborately decorated introduction page; this one is to the Gospel of Mark.

09
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Portrait of Matthew

Richly-Textured Representation of the Evangelist
Richly-Textured Representation of the Evangelist Portrait of Matthew. Public Domain

This detailed portrait of the evangelist Matthew includes intricate designs in a rich array of warm tones.