Monday, January 24, 2011

The Beauty of Kells

Friday night has become pizza and movie night around our house, primarily so that our children realize what that ugly box with the glass screen is for (since they don't see its hypnotizing glow any other time).

This past weekend was The Secret of Kells, a gorgeously animated movie telling the story of the creation of the Book of Kells during a time of darkness and constant danger in Ireland.  Not to go all two thumbs up Siskel and Ebert on you here, but if you have upper grade school or middle school aged kids, they should see this...

... but first they (and you - and I, since I had only a hazy understanding of it) should know the back story of the book.

It was, of course, done largely with oak gall ink.  I have linked to this wiki page several times before.  I thought as a complete change of pace that I might actually read it this time.  I have written before about how one minor problem with oak gall ink - the high quality ink of choice for important documents from da Vinci to Bach - is that over time it eats the very surface upon which it is written. 

According to wiki: "The acidity of iron gall ink is well known but it must also be observed that the case for the acidity of iron gall ink is somewhat overstated. There are several thousands of manuscripts, some of them well over 1,000 years old, with iron gall ink on them that have no damage or degradation whatsoever from the iron gall ink."  Apparently degradation is much less of a problem with vellum than with paper, which helps explain the generally good condition of The Book of Kells - especially considering everything it has been through.

Imagine the times!  9th century Ireland.  Vikings, borne across the sea with terrifying speed in oak ships (whose equal would not be seen again until the 19th century) that seem to literally swim across the waves, are raiding the coastal areas including the rich abbey at Iona, dispersing monks to monasteries in Ireland and Scotland.  Dedicated monks painstakingly concocting oak gall ink, stretching vellum, and sitting in the scriptorium by flickering candle or oil lamp light to create works of art awe inspiring beauty, designed to bring light - to illuminate - a world that seemed bathed in darkness in fear... all the while feeling - knowing - that the next Norse attack could come at any time. 

The Book of Kells is what happens when belief and hope flow through gifted and dedicated hands to simple natural media of incredible permanence.  Although personally I believe fairies were also involved somehow.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds great, Chris. Ireland is a very important place. There is a legend that says that there was a parallel "Eden" established in Ireland along with the Eden of the Bible. So when Lucifer brought his corrupting corrupting influence to the original Eden and man was cast out of the garden, the Irish got to enjoy theirs a good while longer. We'll have to talk more about this,

    David O.