By Frank Crowley
(While our good friend Frank has passed, his work on the Book of Kells Lives on!)
The Chi-Rho page has previously been a subject of this column and this month I want to begin a multi-part detailed examination of this magnificent gospel illumination.
In The Language of Forms, (ISBN 0-87598-140-2), Meyer Schapiro, a renowned art history scholar, describes the “...extraordinary exuberance...” the Chi-Rho page contributes to the manuscript. He adds that it “...has always delighted and fascinated the viewer; it provides the eye the richest, most entrancing field for exploration of any medieval work we know.” Continuing, he adds, “Small as it is, the page has grandeur through its exploitation of scale--from the microscopically small units to the large--and their development and combination in complex groups of progressively greater size.
This brings us to the first column where I will focus on a section of knotwork that is difficult to see clearly without magnification.
We begin in the upper center where the distinctive “X” diagonal strokes cross forming a lozenge, or diamond shape. It is surrounded by a larger diamond shape filled with interlacing of four men, four snakes, four lions and four peacocks. These figures are packed so tightly it’s difficult to distinguish them. To aid in this I added a black and white drawing by George Bain, (Celtic Art,The Methods of Construction, ISBN 0-486-22923-8), which makes the interlacing more clear. I traced the snakes in red to further help to distinguish them. In addition to the red color, also notice two teardrop shaped eyes on the snake’s head and their tail has a fin shaped attachment.