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Preface of the Gospel of Mark, in a Breton Gospels

Preface of the Gospel of Mark, in a Breton Gospels

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 825

Shelfmark: Egerton MS 609

Item number: f.44v

Length: 33

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. A standard preface introduces the gospel of Mark. Above it, the end of the gospel of Matthew is indicated by the large, coloured letters. The first letter of 'Marcus' is a clever variation of the design of the letter seen in 8th- and early 9th-century gospel books from Anglo-Saxon England and Ireland. Instead of the spirals and curves seen there, however, the interlace and shape of the letter have been transformed into a interlocking geometric patterns. This manuscript was modestly produced, with a limited range of colours, suggesting that the monastery where it was made was not a wealthy one.

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