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Beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, in a Breton Gospels

Beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, in a Breton Gospels

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 825

Shelfmark: Egerton MS 609

Item number: f.8r

Length: 32.5

Width: 23

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

From early days of Christianity in the British Isles and Ireland, links have existed between churches of western British regions, especially Wales and Cornwall, and Brittany. Migrations from Ireland and western Britain to Brittany brought manuscripts to communities of monks and nuns there, where their styles influenced Breton book decoration, and manuscripts travelled the other direction, from Brittany to Wales and Cornwall. Even after Charlemagne's programme of book production and monastic standardisation, Breton manuscripts retained their decorative style. In a manuscript such as this gospelbook, animal ornament, interlace and other designs resembling British and Irish decoration, coexist with a handwriting style (script) developed at Tours and earlier Continental decoration. The beginning of the gospel of Matthew is decorated on the pattern of 8th- and early 9th-century Irish and Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, with the first letters nearly covering the whole page and the ones following gradually getting smaller. The interlace and animal heads, too, are distant relatives, much simplified and transformed by styles of early medieval northern and western France. They are more geometric than their Irish and Anglo-Saxon cousins, and the style of the letters themselves have more in common with the classicising alphabets of the Charlemagne's court than with the extravagantly curving letters of manuscripts across the Channel.

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