The Book of Kells

Iona(?), an Irish monastery on the west coast of Scotland, circa 800
Text in Insular Majuscule

Library of Trinity College, Dublin (Ireland)
Ms. 58 (A.1.6)

Date of Publication of the Facsimile: 1990
Publishers: Fine Art Facsimile Publishers of Switzerland=Faksimile-Verlag, Lucerne (Switzerland)

The Book of Kells is a Gospel Book, which means that it contains the full text of the four Gospels, preceded by some traditional introductory materials. Such books were usually elaborately illuminated in the early Middle Ages; this one is especially ornate.

To quote Urs Duggelin, founder of Faksimile-Verlag Luzern: "Duplicating such complex designs involved the intermingling of photographic, printing and computer technology with the craftsmanship provided by experienced lithographers.
First, a special device was invented for the sole purpose of photographing the Book of Kells, which because of its fragility could neither be unbound nor pressed under glass for the purpose of taking photographs. The new device uses gentle suction to pull the manuscript pages flat so that photographs can be taken at an angle.
When a photograph is taken, a color transparency is made and examined under a computer scanner, which analyzes the shapes and colors of the design. The computer then assigns numbers corresponding to formulas for the mixing of inks which are sent to a printing machine.
A preliminary facsimile print is thus made for each page, which is then flown to Dublin for comparison with the original. As many as five lithographers, printers, and photographers travel with each page to Dublin and note necessary changes in the intensity and visual quality of colors that were not picked up by the computer.
After hundreds of refinements are made for each page, the printing machine is programmed to print a definitive facsimile page. Tiny holes in the original manuscript -- imperfections in the original parchment or the result of aging -- are cut into the facsimile by another machine, which also cuts each page to the original, irregular outline of the parchment.
Despite the accuracy of this process, facsimile technology is as yet unable to duplicate the sensation of parchment. Original parchment, usually the skin of a sheep or a goat, is leathery to the touch and look, has a smooth side and a rougher "hair side," and is uneven in texture, sometimes being thin to the point of translucency.
Facsimile pages made of paper, by contrast, are of uniform thickness, and all sensual subtleties such as translucency, softness or thickness of texture, are lost." (From The New York Times, June 2, 1987.)

fol. 34r
fol. 34r

Ancient Irish
Manuscripts

The Library of the Medieval Institute