The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript that contains the four gospels of the New Testament, along with various supporting material. It is an extremely fine example of insular art, works of art produced in Britain and Ireland after the departure of the Romans, and many people consider it to be one of Ireland's national treasures. As is fitting for an Irish historical artifact, the Book of Kells is kept on display at Trinity College, Dublin, one of Ireland's finest educational institutions.
Insular art is characterized by a unique style that was quite different from that of art being produced in Europe at the same time. The Book of Kells features astounding calligraphy, supplemented by beautiful illuminations that include plants, animals, people, elaborate knotwork, and geometric designs. The illuminations include rich colors and gilding, and they are incredibly detailed and precise. The Book of Kells also includes several full page portraits of various figures from the gospels.
There is some debate as to exactly where or when the Book of Kells was produced. Most people agree that it was made around the eighth century, by Irish monks who used a Vulgate Latin edition of the Bible as their model. For quite some time, the manuscript was kept at the Abbey of Kells, which explains the name, and in the 1600s, it made its way to Trinity College, its permanent home. In 1953, the folios were bound into four volumes.
Visitors to Trinity College can see several volumes of the Book of Kells on display at any given time, in a special room that has been designed with archival conditions, ensuring that the book does not fade or become damaged. The books are kept inside sealed, climate controlled glass cases, with curators occasionally opening the cases to turn the pages, creating a rotating display.
Numerous reproductions of the Book of Kells can be found around the world, including several remarkably close facsimiles of the document. Many art books also include selections from the manuscript, as many people find the artwork to be haunting, beautiful, and simply incredible. This masterwork of Irish art is truly a magnificent cultural, historical, and religious artifact.