Disclaimer: NO, I did not choose to write about the Book of Kells because I am a Christian boy.
Ever since Prof. Michael Walsh taught us about Christian Art, the Book of Kells has always fascinated me. More specifically, the illustrative extravagance and overall complexity it achieves, given its respective historical context! In simple terms, I cannot fathom how creating something like that is even possible given the time stamp of the work.
Surface value suggests the Book of Kells be hardly typographic at all. Upon flipping the cover, motifs and geometric shapes flood the entire opening page. What piques my interest has to be the fact, that monastery monks were able to create such intricate masterpieces despite the limitations. The monks went through a tedious and unforgiving process of weaving tempera onto a delicate parchment of vellum. The immense dedication it took, wins my admiration as I would imagine months maybe even years, of discipline, precise painting, just for a single page. Funny enough, this truly reflects the Christian teachings, one of long-suffering and patience.
During Desmond’s lecture, he introduced something that I never before saw. The half uncials implemented within the manuscript portion of the book. Beautifully handcrafted typography with the prominent extension of the capital letters and individual ascenders. What strikes me most here is the incredible readability of each word. What more, the distinct spacings between words and impeccable separation between sentences value add significantly to its overall legibility.
I’ve always been a fan of clean, minimalistic layouts. Seeing how the monastery monks have achieved seamless perfection without the need of a computer much less a printing press is truly mesmerising.
Desmond’s lecture truly supplements my initial preconception of the work, echoing the sentiments of the renown archdeacon Giraldus de Barri:
‘Examine it carefully and you will penetrate to the very shrine of art…the work of an angel, not a man.’