Opening the senses : the Gospel book as an instrument of salvation as articulated by the minor decoration and full-page illustrations of the Book of Kells
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This thesis argues that the minor decoration and full-page images of the Book of Kells reflects a cohesive theme: the role of the gospel book in man's apprehension of God. This is demonstrated by an examination of the decorated initials and smaller images in relation to the text and a reinterpretation of the full-page images within the context of patristic commentary and the writings of the period. It is argued that the decorated initials and minor imagery are not merely ornamental but instead emphasize and comment upon the text. They do so in three ways: Firstly, they draw the eye to passages of gospel text that describe the visual apprehension and recognition of Christ as the Son of God. In demonstrating this, the assumption that the decorated initials operate in a traditional manner, such as marking lections or Eusebian sections, is rejected. The atypical function of the decoration, highlighting themes rather than liturgical or content divisions, indicates the unique function of the manuscript. Secondly, it is argued that the decorated initials employ the metaphorical imagery of the Psalms to describe the distinction between the manuscript's audience who acknowledge Christ as the Son of God, and those described within the text as confused and unable to recognize the identity of Christ despite his presence in their midst. Thirdly, the imagery of the decorated initials describes the manner in which the Godhead is literally contained within the text of the gospel book. The larger images also emphasize the recognition of Christ and distinguish between those who look to the Word of God and those who fail to do so. Additionally, the full-page imagery instructs the audience in the use of the manuscript. To an even greater extent than the minor decoration, the larger images articulate the role of the Gospel book and liturgy as a visible guide to an invisible deity and shield against temptation.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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