Book of Kells/ Lindisfarne Gospels Collection Part 1: Idea

Now, I will introduce you to fashion researching. My next fashion venture (apart from this blog) is to create a collection based on illuminated medieval manuscripts, especially the Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels. I have always had a fascination with medieval manuscripts, particularly Kells. I even bought the Paperblanks notebook witth the embossed cover reproducing the ‘Generationes’ (the beginning to the Gospel of Matthew) page from the actual Book ($16, now that is dedication!). The Book of Kells is housed in Trinity College, Dublin, where it is on permanent display.

The Book was created around the 9th century (790-810 AD) and even though the evidence is inconclusive, it was probably started in the monastery of Iona (an island off the northwestern part of Scotland) and later taken to Kells (in Ireland) for finishing. Whether the Latin script, based on the Vulgate translation of the Bible done by St Jerome in the 4th century, was written in Iona or in Kells is also a mystery. What we do know (which I noticed in one of the photos of the book) is that the Latin has a number of grammatical errors.

For example, and here I deviated from my original intention of designing clothes, this page with a ‘quote’ from Matthew 27:38:

Matthew 27:38

The Latin reads: ‘Tunc crucifixebant XRI (abbreviation of Christi) cum eo duos latrones’. Right away, if you know Latin, you can notice something is a bit… odd. The translation of this passage would read a bit as it follows: ‘Then they were crucifying  Christ with him (cum eo) two thieves.’ (Here I must add, if I mistranslated this passage, DO let me know!)

See what happens when I get distracted? I lose the plot completely. What does this has to do with designing a collection? Probably nothing. But I am already wrapped in this mystery and I have to pursuit it all the way, in the name of academics fashion.

I checked the Vulgate translation of the Bible according to St Jerome (go to: http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/vul/mat027.htm#038) and the actual text for Matthew 27:38 is the following: ‘Tunc crucifixi sunt cum eo duo latrones: unus a dextris, et unus a sinistris’  (‘Then were crucified with him two thieves: one to his right and one to his left’). This means the monks messed up their Latin. Why? I am still not sure. According to Wikipedia, there are numerous errors of such fashion in the Book of Kells because, rather than transcribing from a master copy of the Vulgate, the monks wrote down the text from memory. That’s quite the accomplishment. I will keep posting on the developments of this curiosity if and when I manage to find out more about it!

But the reason I chose the Book of Kells was not so much for the textual content (as we can see, the monks apparently did not pay that much attention to it either) as for the artwork. It is one of the most intricate works of medieval art and one of the most important Western manuscripts there is. The delicate Celtic interlacing is combined with various pagan motifs that result in pagan imagery used for Christian purposes.

‘Generationes’ page from the Gospel of Matthew

And I want my collection to reflect such handmade artistry while remaining faithful to a woman’s body and contemporary design. How do I take such delicacy and insert it into my work? Quilting and trapunto are my point of reference, technique-wise.

patchwork quilting

Trapunto

This should enable me to experiment with surface design and translate the drawings in the Book of Kells into womenswear. This also reminds me of a medieval quilt at the new Medieval and Renaissance Galleries in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (V&A). More research is needed for doing the collection. I have just started! SO stay tune for part 2: Research, coming soon enough.

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