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Video transcript

[Music] we're in the anglo-saxon kingdoms exhibition and we're looking at one of the great treasures of the British Library the Lindisfarne Gospels it's an illuminated manuscript it's a handmade object in this exhibition we have the unparalleled opportunity to see the beginning of the Gospels Saint Matthew one of the most famous images in the book the evangelists writing he's identified by his name partly in Greek and he's accompanied by his symbol of the man here wind who is also identified so by Gospel were referring to one of four books in the New Testament and one of the authors is Saint Matthew an evangelist here depicted literally writing the words that are contained within the manuscript before us yes this is an extraordinary copy of the four Gospels so the accounts of Jesus life and teaching written by his disciples and followers Matthew Mark Luke and John in front of each of these four books is an extraordinary page typically referred to as a carpet page detailed entwined decorations with the shape of cross these beautiful pages may have served at the internal cover to make each gospel its own separate book and this particular carpet page is extraordinary for its brilliance in color its precision in line it's complex mirrored interlacing this sort of decoration puts us in mind immediately of the metalwork that has been found in various archaeological finds most notably Sutton Hoo the great buckle which is in the exhibition so we can see ideas that the artist is using and creating these remarkable images in this corporate page which comes just after the image of Saint Matthew is largely abstract with the exception of the cross and certain minut animal and bird heads that are woven into the carpet in a style that we often refer to for Brno Saxon and it's in such contrast to the more classical image that we're seeing here we have this fusion of cultural ideas artistic understandings and that is one of the themes that we're bringing out throughout the exhibition that people traveled books traveled ideas travelled and you get this wonderful mixing of creative ideas and it makes sense because the Irish Christian tradition was long standing by this point but influence is also coming from Rome and this book is a perfect reflection of the integration of those traditions this book was made on the island of Linda's farm it's off the coast of Northumbria and that monastery was founded from missionaries from Iona which is now in Scotland but ultimately from Ireland so the Irish tradition that's strong there but equally the Abbott's traveled regularly to Rome we know that they brought back books they brought back liturgical materials stained glass so they're very aware of and writing in a style reflective of a Mediterranean tradition they think when many people think about the island monastery on Lindisfarne they think about an isolated community but it was anything but yes it was one of the great centers of learning in anglo-saxon England at the time and I think it also points out how often people traveled sometimes as you say we think of them isolated remote and it is a bit remote yet people and ideas travelled throughout Europe as they do today and we can see that in this magnificent painting at the beginning of the gospel of Saint Matthew we see Matthew his head surrounded by a halo his body represented sitting firmly on a cushion on a stool seen in perspective perhaps not perfect linear perspective nevertheless that moves back into space the pose is a complex one an ambitious one clearly referencing the naturalism that comes from the ancient Greek and Roman tradition yes a few steps away from where we're standing here is the great codex mu teenis this is a whole Bible so both the Old Testament and the New Testament it's huge at over a thousand leaves about a foot in width and it weighs over 75 pounds we have it open to the famous image of Ezra writing we can compare how very similar these two images are the colors of the robes what they're sitting on the position of the feet even their sandals the way they're holding the pen but in Linda's farm it's flatter it's more linear it's more stylized this has been debated but one can see that as a deliberate artistic choice reflecting the aesthetic metalwork pattern and design that's slightly different from this depiction which was made in Northumbria within a decade or maybe at the very same time that Linda's farm was being made so it's entirely possible that both of these illustrations were drawing on the same source there's much debate in the literature are they both copying the same exemplar clearly they're so similar and they're working at the same time very closely related geographically so perhaps they were looking at the same book or same type of book to produce these images but this is absolutely the classic author portrait derived from antiquity adopted for Christian use for the writers of the Gospels scholars believe that the manuscript was penned by a single individual we have quite detailed information about the individuals who were involved in the production of this book in the late 10th century the Provost of Chester 'less street and called Aldridge wrote a very detailed Kalla phone in Old English he also went through the entire book and put translations of the Latin words into Old English above each word that is our earliest surviving copy of the Gospels in English and this provides a record of the authorship of the manufacturer of the book itself not only the bishop who actually was the scribe but also the man who bound the book and the hermit who applied jewels to its cover he gives us the names of three people that Aunt Ruth wrote it and then he goes on to say Bishop Ethel walls found it and that the anchorite Bill Frist adorned it with jewels and gold so the missing person here who'd made these extraordinary decorations and there's been some assumption that it was the Bishop prepend it but we have no real evidence and it's important to remember that the Caliph on was produced more than two centuries after the book was produced and although scholars feel generally comfortable with it we do want to be aware that the Caliph owned was not made immediately after the manuscript we now often buy books online or we walk into a bookstore and they're relatively inexpensive things it's important to locate this has a luxury object of almost unimaginable value it was taken hundreds of animals to produce the skin necessary to write this I think we sometimes forget that a manuscript means hand written absolutely every aspect of all of these books in the exhibition including this gospel book was done by hand skins had to be prepared the lines ruled the script written and copied from another book decoration added and different colored pigments it really is an astonishing achievement [Music]
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