Boucher – Book of Kells

Victor Boucher Aveledo

ART 85

Assignment One



The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript that was created by monks in 800 AD or earlier. There are many theories of the original origin where the book was created. The two main theories that people believe are that the book was created at Iona and then transported to Kells to where the illuminations were added but never finished. Or the book was put together entirely at either Iona or at Kells. The Book of Kells has beautiful Christian illustrations, as well as containing text from the four Gospels based on the Vulgate.  Within the art and design world many people questions whether the book of Kells should be considered art work or design. With art being defined as work that induces emotion and design having a purposeful intention, The Book of Kells obviously had the intent of converting Pagans into Christians. So originally the book is a design. But today it has turned into art when we glorified it.

You can see the design aspect in the Book of Kells in different pages where they show Pagan influence turning into Christian, or combining the two to show a “crossing over” from Pagan to Christian. In chapter 1 verse 18, “The Latin verse begins “Christi autem generatio sic erat” – “this is how Christ came to be born”. The page dwells almost entirely on the name of Christ, or rather on its traditional abbreviation into the ‘Chi-Rho’ symbol.” (The ‘Chi-Rho’) The three letters are heavily emphasized to show how great Christ is with the amount of detail put into these two letters and the use of the typical royal colors; purple, red, and gold. “All three letters are abundantly decorated, their curves drawn out into flourishes, embellished with discs and spirals, filled with dense tracery and punctuated with occasional animals and angels.” (The ‘Chi-Rho’) Having the letters filled with animals and angels helps to try to convert Pagans into Christians.

You can see within the text that they added illustration as letters to accentuate certain parts. In a section of the book there is a peacock within the text taking place of a letter that is “a symbol of Christ and his resurrection, was also associated from classical times with the sky and with heaven. Here, the varied symbolism is brought together: a peacock perches on the phrase uttered by Jesus in John’s Gospel 6.38, ‘Quia descendi de caelo’.” (The Book) With a minute detail like that it is like subliminal messaging. At the start of each Gospel the opening words take up entire pages showing the importance of what has to be said by the use of words and illustration. As well as the message they wanted to portray of Christianity and how great and majestic it was.

But can the Book of Kells still be considered a functional design in our time? No, not as much. Despite the fact that it is a gathering of stunning illustrations, the functionality of the book was lost in time. Now in our time it is considered art for the craftsmanship that was applied to create this book. The same can be said about many other religious/ethnic buildings like various Cathedrals, Egyptian Pyramids, and Islamic Mosques. All these places first had design in place to help spread believes through their paintings. “The fine arts are to be distinguished from the mechanical arts (practical skills like farming and engineering) and from a third group, the arts that combine beauty and practical function (e.g., eloquence and architecture). Because the purpose of fine art is pleasure rather than utility…“(Aesthetic Theories) The book of Kells really was a mechanical piece first. It had a purposeful function at first just like all the murals in religious buildings.

The Book of Kells is a beautiful Illuminated manuscript well known around the world. The hard work that was put into it each detail of every illustration makes it a true piece of artwork, but only through the monks beautiful design first. Therefore the Book of Kells can be considered both art and design. Through time the design had become artwork, like with many other great creations.












Works Cited

“Aesthetic Theories of David Hume and Immanuel Kant.” Web log post. Aesthetic Theories of David

Hume and Immanuel Kant. Theodore Gracyk, 15 Feb. 2006. Web. 20 Sept. 2013. < of art/hume_and_kant.htm>.

“The Book of Kells – in Pictures.” Web log post. The Guardian. The Guardian, 14 Dec. 2012.

Web. 20 Sept. 2013.


“The ‘Chi-Rho’ from ‘The Book of Kells’ (c.800).” Web log post. The Independent  Independent Digital News and Media, 16 May 2008. Web. 20 Sept. 2013.

<           chirho-from-the-book-of-kells-c800-828951.html>


One comment

  1. Victor,

    You did it bouche!!!

    Good job. Good writing and good logic. Strong use of sources to back your rhetoric and good process to get there. Lots to argue or discuss. I hope this is helping all of you to see the symbiotic relationship between art and design and not just composition.
    Two very different things design and composition. One is purpose one is structure.
    Keep building in this direction.

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