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Beginning of the Gospel of John, in a Breton Gospels

Beginning of the Gospel of John, in a Breton Gospels

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 825

Shelfmark: Egerton MS 609

Item number: f.79r

Length: 32

Width: 22

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 John is patterned after decoration seen in 8th- and 9th-century gospelbooks from Britain and Ireland. It has the title written in capital letters at the top, with colour applied, and the first letters are enlarged nearly to the height of the page and then gradually become smaller. The unified first two letters, IN, first appear in manuscripts produced in an Irish context in the late 7th century. The animal heads and interlace decoration also represent a long-standing Breton tradition of creative imitation of Irish and related manuscript art. The broad, simplified patterns of interlace represent a robust transformation of the intricate patterns of manuscripts such as the Lichfield Gospels, now in Lichfield Cathedral Treasury.

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