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This Insular art form of book illustration, which emerged from a fusion of early Biblical art, traditional Celtic culture and design, with Anglo-Saxon techniques, took place as Irish missionaries, monasteries and monastic art spread across Ireland (eg.Kildare, Durrow, Clonmacnois, Clonfert, Kells and Monasterboice), Scotland (eg. Lindisfarne off the coast of Northumbria) in the seventh and eighth centuries.Even now, the fantastic Celtic intricacy of the decorative spirals, rhombuses, carpet pages and miniature pictures testifies to the outstanding creativity of this early religious art.There were no printing machines during these medieval times, so each folio or page had to be written by hand, making each manuscript a unique piece of biblical art.Once the vellum or parchment was prepared, the monastery's calligraphers and scribes began the laborious task of copying the chosen religious text, word for word.Irish artists from among the monks would then begin the illustrations.These so-called carpet pages would typically preface each Gospel and usually contained an intricate set of geometric or Celtic interlace designs, sometimes framing a central cross.These books were not all written in an identical style.
Because of their religious significance as well as their precious metalwork, many of these books were extremely valuable and great efforts were made by the monks to preserve them from pillage. The more important books, all produced in Irish or Anglo-Irish monasteries, contained the Gospels or other holy scripture from the Bible, all written in Latin.In due course, they were followed by Medieval Christian artworks such as Carolingan and Byzantine illuminated manuscripts.Influenced by early illustrated texts from the Coptic Christians of Egypt, these illuminated manuscripts went on to influence Islamic art in the form of painted Persian manuscripts and calligraphic artworks.There is also considerable variation in the colours used both for the text and the illustrations.Some books were bound in leather, others in wood and leather.