Trinity Library is lending the Book of Durrow, “one of the earliest surviving decorated Gospel books in Western Europe” and a precursor to the Book of Kells, to the British Library for an international exhibition on early medieval manuscripts.
The Book of Durrow is to be featured in the British Library’s exhibition “Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War”. The exhibition will open on October 19 and run until mid-February, during which time the Book of Durrow is to be kept there.
Librarian and College Archivist Helen Shenton stated: “The Book of Durrow is at the heart of Ireland’s cultural heritage… Through this partnership with the British Library, people will be able to see it alongside major manuscripts from across Europe and the USA.”
Trinity has stored the manuscript since the 17th century and it is usually displayed in the Trinity Library in rotation with other manuscripts. For those who wish to see the manuscript during its temporary absence from the Trinity College Library, it is available to view through a new online exhibition available to the public.
The Book of Durrow’s importance stems from the fact that it “plays a crucial role in telling the story of the Anglo-Saxon period and how it influenced early Christian art; the story simply can’t be told without it,” according to Shenton. “In a Brexit and post-Brexit era, it is so important that our cultural institutions continue to collaborate in such significant partnerships.”
The manuscript has a distinct aesthetic featuring vibrant colours, stemming from iron gall, red lead, a copper-based acetate and arsenic sulphide or orpiment, as an analysis by Trinity discovered. The Book of Durrow brings together several artistic traditions, revealing a “pivotal moment in the development of early Christian art in north-western Europe.” It is precisely this insular art style that inspired other well-known works such as the Book of Kells or the Lindisfarne Gospels.
“I am thrilled that Trinity College Dublin has generously agreed to loan the Book of Durrow to the British Library’s exhibition,” says Dr Claire Breay, curator of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition. “Visitors will encounter the book, which was probably made in Durrow, Co. Offaly, alongside extraordinary manuscripts made in Northumbria in the same period.”
Meanwhile, Provost Patrick Prendergast says Trinity is “delighted to give people an opportunity to view the Book of Durrow in an exhibition of this scale and global importance. As a university this is something that we want to facilitate and be part of.”