Illuminated Manuscripts at the Getty Museum Took Me Back to the Book of Kells (and Had Me Briefly Considering a Vow of Chastity)

in #art3 years ago


As a university student, I spent a semester studying poetry in Ireland. Looking out from my residence hall in Dublin each morning, I could see another building just a short walk across the campus of Trinity College. That building housed the Book of Kells, one of the world’s greatest examples of an illuminated manuscript. I am not religious (and spent much of my time in Ireland worshipping a pint of Guinness). But I stopped in to view the Book of Kells manuscript several times during my stay there.

My student days were long ago. Last month, during a trip through Los Angeles, my family and I stopped at the Getty Center’s world class museum. The Getty Museum sits on a hill that has been threatened by wildfires which began shortly after we left. Experts said a top quality museum could not be built from spare parts in the modern era, but they were wrong. It cost $1.3 billion to build the museum, which offers free admission to the public.


The Getty encompasses an amazing collection of European art, representing many different periods, styles, and media. From Van Gogh’s Irises to Boule’s Cabinet on a Stand to Josef Koudelka’s Prague 1968, one could spend hours, days, or even weeks roaming the buildings there and enjoying their treasures. And outside the buildings are intricate gardens with impressive sculptures and wonderful views above Los Angeles to the coastline of Malibu.




One of the highlights of the museum is its collection of illuminated manuscripts. These are not on the tour bus highlights, which spend most of their time in the Impressionists area and gift shop. Unbeknownst to many visitors, the Getty Center holds one of the world’s most impressive collections of illuminated manuscripts. They do a good job of featuring these in regular exhibitions.

An illuminated manuscript is a manuscript that is decorated, sometimes simply with gold or silver, but often with additional designs and pictures. When I think of an illuminated manuscript, I think of medieval art and bibles that were adorned with lots of flair and gold lettering. I think of something like the Book of Kells, a text of the four Gospels (and some additional material), which probably was created in an Irish Columban monastery around 800 A.D.

Detail from the Book of Kells

When we were at the Getty Museum, there was a special exhibit of nature-oriented manuscripts from the Renaissance period. Seeing all of these magnificent works gave me a flashback to Trinity College, when I was younger and had a chance to view the Book of Kells. In the years since I was a student, I probably have not thought much (if at all) about illuminated manuscripts. They don’t play a role in my life. And yet, en route to the Getty Museum, when we were planning our visit there, the illuminated manuscripts somehow came out on top of my ‘must see’ list.

Why? Perhaps it was because we had visited another museum within the last few months that offered Italian Renaissance, Impressionist, and Flemish art. Perhaps I wanted to see something different and picked out the illuminated manuscripts. Or perhaps I had a dose of nostalgia and remembered the Book of Kells.

There were some clear similarities between that text and those displayed at the Getty. Yet, at the same time, these later Renaissance works were more illustrative. Some are loose leaf pages, while others live in their original books. One cannot pick up a whole illuminated book and flip through it, so of course the museum’s curators choose certain page spreads to highlight and display in glass cases, often cycling through these over time.



These illuminated pages are simply mind-blowing. Who does that? Who has the time? Who has the dedication to spend years, possibly the majority of one’s working life, copying and illustrating such a book by hand?

Who starts building a magnificent cathedral, knowing it will only be finished by the next generation or the one after that? Who begins with a chunk of stone and molds it into a sculpture that shows more life than many living people? Who puts every ounce of passion into the detail of a painting, creating something that will stand for centuries? Many of the creators’ names are lost to history, so their work lives on, but their names were forgotten long ago.

I’ll tell you who does those things. People who believe they are doing God’s work. Their artwork glorifies God and that’s why they want to make it perfect. It’s their dedication to God, their fear, and their obsession that sets their course and drives them to complete lofty achievements in the service of God. I’m not religious, but clearly that belief can move people.

No shopping mall, office tower, Photoshop file, or public art project today can come close. We don’t have the all-encompassing belief and the passion that it would take to create something as beautiful and complete as a cathedral or a richly adorned manuscript page.

Can you honestly imagine someone today creating these? A whole book of them? All by hand with no modern art materials? The artist would need to have a strong belief system that justified (or demanded) the work.

Again and again, I’ve seen this: In one of these museums, you’re in a room full of paintings. You’re looking at some nice pictures of Jesus and angels and glorious portraits and landscapes. Then you turn notice and see that one artist painted a vision of hell.

The Beast Acheron by Simon Marmion, 1475.

So it’s not just devotion and the desire to glorify God by painting something awesome. It’s also the mortal fear of eternal damnation for those who don’t do the job right. That’s some scary stuff and it also helped motivate a lot of artists in the past to make things that would seem impossible today.

Those feats would be possible today for someone with a strong belief that aligned with the purpose of the work. But such a person still would need one more element: celibacy.

That’s right, take a vow of chastity. Some of these monks put everything they had into their life’s work. If they’d had to worry about regular gratification, finding a partner, satisfying a partner, dealing with children and supporting a family, then sorry, game over. Work of this magnitude and quality over a long period of time simply is not possible with the distractions of a typical life. To achieve what they did, you’d have to go full-on hermit and focus like a laser beam on the work, everything else be damned. No modern art materials and eternal wrath if you got it wrong.



In fact, some of the medieval illuminated texts were Books of Hours, which were prayer books for people praying at every hour of the day. The monastic version of these prayers were offered to the Virgin Mary every three hours throughout the day and night, which must have necessitated an interesting sleep schedule. Vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty: you would have needed them all, along with a few cups of coffee.


Would you take a vow of chastity (and stick to it) if you knew that something you created would live on for centuries? Keep your DNA to yourself; it’s a different way to pass something along to future generations. When I look at illuminated manuscripts, even though I’m not religious myself, I can appreciate the sacrifices that someone must have made. The legacy they left was extraordinary.


The Book of Kells: Medieval Europe’s Greatest Treasure?

Getty Museum Collection Highlights: Illuminated Manuscripts.

Wikipedia Book of Kells:

Kren, Thomas. Masterpieces of the J. Paul Getty Museum: Illuminated Manuscripts (Oxford University Press 1997),

Heaven, Hell, and Dying in Illuminated Manuscripts:

Illuminated Manuscripts, article from Augsberg University:

Could You Hack It as a Medieval Monk?


All photos are either public domain, by the author, or courtesy of the Getty Museum. Top image is a montage of two separate pages from the Book of Kells.


I love to visit a museam from time to time, it enriches the mind and spirit!

As you rightly said, the artists back in those day dedicated all thier work as thier service to God. Hence, they were more patient
The fact that thier work will take another two generations to complete dint bother them, all they believed is to do the thier action as the service to thier lord.
Interestingly,that's the Basic principle of the Bhagavad Gita to lead the right kind of life(Hindu Scripture).That is to Do your Action/work without the expection of the fruits of your action/work
Don't see a lot of modern day Artists believe in the same principle.

Excellent points. That's something to strive towards, working right without the expectation of reward. To be fair to people in the modern world, the cost of living is high and people need some fruits, but that's a wonderful goal.

To be Honest, Working without expectation is a very hard priciple to follow. Lets take steem for example,Most of us are here with some kind of expectation.😋
But the whole idea of the Bhagavad Gita to forbid expectation is the fact that it leads to Disappointment, which inturn leads to Anger. As we all know, Anger is not good for work and can only cause distruction.
Isn't it so Amazing how well the Ancient civilizations wrote this philosophy?

Many artists would be happy to have just the basics taken care of so that they can continue doing that thing they love so much. The great cathedrals took generations to complete, but somehow the vision was kept alive. Maybe we just don't have long enough attention span to keep a dream going. But that can change...

Altruistic modern day artists are out there, @backpackingmonk only perhaps quieter than their counterparts.

Lately, I've come to think of the artist as a type of mystic and poetry as a form of prayer. Here is an article, for World Literature Today, that I've written on Seeking the Light through Literature:

In this special issue on Belief in an Ag of Intolerance I featured many modern artists, some of whom refused to even accept payment for their work since they viewed it as a form of service towards a noble goal.

Thank you, @donkeypong, for sharing your fine post which have occasioned these meditations.

@storytellingza:Yes ,Simple Living and Higher Thinking is the way the cathedrals went about Thier Art.
And as you rightly said, most of us lack long attentionspan these days. But what could be the reason?
It's good hear from you that artist with this kind of priciple existing even today @yahialababidi

Dedication, consistent commitment is one of the foremost keys to success. Persistence in the face of failure or perceived limitations to overcome them also feeds into that mix. One commits to the experience, not the end goal.

oh wow.. such intricate details.. I think I have also seen similar illuminated manuscripts in a Armenian Church , they have one of those books displayed, actually the writing also very similar. I particular love how colourful they are..

@donkeypong, Absolutely brilliant illuminated manuscripts collections you posted with nice description. You've such a great memorable history when you student past period. Great experience you've got. I have seen & studied Italian Renaissance, Impressionist, and Flemish art etc.. in my advance level class. These arts created only who believed gods work. They really attracted gods work.
Am Buddhist, I have seen in my country doing Buddha art works created only the real Buddhist. They had really believed their religion deeply their heart. Thank you for giving valuable Xmas gift to us.

That's absolutely true. In many countries, traditions, and religions, the same dedication and craftmanship is at work.

Can you please decipher for me what you tried to say here? "These arts created only who believed gods work. They really attracted gods work."

@donkeypong - that was an 'illuminating post'..:)

I think you got it spot on when you said work of this magnitude and quality over a long period of time simply is not possible with the distractions of a typical life - and given that modern life is filled with a multitude of distractions, it's not surprising that this kind of art is so rare today..

I totally agree with this also, it really puts it into perspective. These works would be your sole purpose in life, you would do nothing other than work on perfecting them. No wonder there were so many amazing masterpieces from the past!

Their work offers a glimpse into their way of life and belief system which was definitely interesting; but to dedicate my life to sit behind closed doors would have been torture for me. The world is too much of an interesting place to explore in our times :) maybe in those days the commonplace violence and hardships of travel made a monastic life more appealing.

In the end, I agree with you. That life would not be for me, either. Full respect, though!

although i cant express with words how amazing i feel watching this form of art i tend to believe that mostly everything about those religious book came out of fear. ofc there are a few people that did it out of love for god but most of them did it either from fear as you said too about hell or if i may add fear of dying from those that assign them the job

That's probably true. There are a lot of illuminated manuscripts that depict hell and suffering also. I'm sure fear was a part of it, as it has been used in many religions.

on the other hand though as you said once again too it is very remarkable for those that did it out of love for god and one of the greatest question of all times is still legit ''what a human is capable of?''

The way you stress how you are not religious...Hahaha.
As long as you know and believe in God(my opinion though).

When I look at illuminated manuscripts, even though I’m not religious myself, I can appreciate the sacrifices that someone must have made

These illuminated manuscripts are really mind blowing indeed and you enjoyed sighting them.

The guys who took their time to make this magnificent work really hard passion and wanted to show their love for God.....obviously may be they hard enough coffee also as you said hehehe.

Wow friend very interesting. Thanks for sharing such a valuable informations about the manuscript. They are the precious literature with beautiful pictures of various grounds, culture, economy, social life styles of the people. The were written for general people so depicted with beautiful pictures. Thanks for the great share from which we Indians also benefited a lot with this information. Thanks.

I have got to say the arts are just beautiful

Finding hands who can do this without modern technologies would be one hell of a task

Nice post man!
I'm not religious at all but I still enjoy old pictures of beliefers. It's more about the art than the message itself. It's amazing how creative some artists were back in the days and more often than not there is a deeper meaning for the artist itself hidden in these paintings and manuscripts.
Thanks for sharing and have a nice day!

Incredible scenery drawing art photo, painting colours and very well composed keep up the great work! have a nice day.

Yes, exactly. The religious conviction drove some great work, which I respect, even if some of us are not very religious ourselves.

I totally agree. One sad thing is, that the church sometimes paid with money they took from the poor farmers and they had to rationalise their food to make these great paintings possible.
Some artists donated a lot of their work to prevent that and these people are true heroes.
Art shouldn't be about gaining money but rather about making peope happier and let them dive in a world they coulnd't even imagine themself.
Art can be so great! Every form of it.

Great shots @donkeypong ..............................................
what camera did you use to get the shots on the your favorite art photo? Incredible scenery drawing art photo, painting colours and very well composed keep up the great work! have a nice day.
upvoted and resteem

Incredible scenery drawing art photo, painting colours and very well composed keep up the great work! have a nice day.

yes, friend @ionutciobanu ,, absolutely i appreciate your comment... nicely comment.

i follow you now maybe cab hekp togheter for grow thx for all

I like to know as well:) I recently started photography myself and am gathering as much infos about the work of others as I can get:)

yes, friend @rheteric
i wait for next fantastic and interesting photography.
i wish you all the best
i followed you friend @rheteric

Thanks mate:)
I'll follow you back of course
My first steemit project had semi-success and I hope I can bring my motivation back to steemit.

I just use a phone. Samsung Galaxy S7. When there's adequate light, it's as good as many professional cameras.

I love arts like crazy..
I wish I could interpret my intents via pictures and arts.
So I appreciate one when I see it...
Thanks @donkeypong for exciting my kidneys this morning.

True, valuable content.
Past was better in many ways than we think today...
People thought about values and about society.
Today we live a life of independent egoist creatures.
We lost sense of our existence thinking only: "myself" .

Wow! Wow!! Wow!!! I was honestly too wowed by this write-up and I really was able to see into the mind of those artists who meticulously created legendary masterpieces that has endured for centuries. Through this post, I have been able to understand what drives their passion, what fuels their desires and ultimately what they feel has been achieved. I have been able to learn that with passion, one can go to any length to see things done which he believes in. Thank you so much for sharing and if you ever feel like reading poetry, you can check out my blog .

That’s what I love about museums and ancient relics. They tell a lot of stories, riddles and mysteries. Nice @donkeypong ! ☺️

The book of kel is a master piece. It's almost impossible not to be attached to this work. Reminds me of the otho-corpus gospels. Nice piece.

Yes, that's true. It really is amazing work. Thanks.

fond of this medieval period and all works related to it fascinate me. Thanks !

we just love to remind old thing that we ever see in museum it show the living of old people that how they looks like and what they did in there time @donkeypong

Really an invaluable gift to us and the future generation. Our task is to preserve this for ages. Very interesting article. Thanks for sharing.

Thank you for taking us with you. I haven‘t seen the Book of Kell yet. My first stay in Ireland was too short. Useful links, too. Thanks again.

wow ! extraordinary and unavailable art photo. i think , you again visiting in your favorite place..thanks for sharing interesting history.have a great, i enjoyed your post
.upvoted ... resteem tenor (12).gif

wow this is stunning thanks for sharing these manuscripts :)

And people today want to read stuff on Kindle. I want to go back to the illuminated manuscript days

I enjoy both!

Some of these monks put everything they had into their life’s work

And that is why they still live on through their work. Any man who has found his passion can become a legend through his works.
Thank you sir for sharing.

Maybe Johannes Gutenberg did write or produced the manuscripts but I doubt on the illuminated images. Nevertheless, it's a cool book full of information about the medieval and the Renaissance period.

I love art works also most especially cause I know it's time consuming and requires maximum creativity.. Unfortunately I have never had to behold such quality first hand

This is some EXCELLENT post. So interesting.

But "The Beast Acheron" piece?

My God, i am on fire here. It is so evocative. I want to write a whole novel about that scene alone right away...

Or at least a post. Send it my way if you do!

You got it! Right back from holydays, i promise! :D

Interesting article. Those pieces are utterly beautiful. The sacrifices these people made in order to create these kind of work are beyond imaginable. However, maybe for them it isn't sacrifice at all since they could take joy from what they are doing with the thought that they are pleasing God. Today, in the present, it is seldom to find this kind of dedication and I really respect them for that.

I have also the exact same question. Who has that much time to make such illuminated manuscripts?
By the way, wonderful post with lots of pictures. Seems like you have spent considerable times behind your post.

Wow I clicked on your post because I have spend time in Ireland on 2 occasions and neither of them did I walk down the street to Trinity College and take the time to check out the book of Kells. I won't say it's something I regret missing, but rather something I will do at a later date. Ireland isn't so far away anyhow!
I also found it interesting to know that Cali has the Getty that houses the some illuminated manuscripts, I am actually going to Malibu in July for the wedding of the girl who I travelled to Ireland with on both occasions. Perhaps July I will venture over to the Getty and check out these illuminated manuscripts, I will be happy to compare them to the book of Kells next time I am in Ireland.
Anyhow this was an amazing read, I was thinking as I read it I could never imagine taking the time to do all of that tedious work and all for one book. I was really envisioning sitting there day after day dipping my stick into my pot and slowly scrolling each letter of each word until one day comes years later and I am! But now what, I have completed this masterpiece and I don't even have ownership of it.
I have often thought about cathedrals and how devastating it is that people who come up with these amazing works never see them through, they never see the light shining through the stained glass, never see the buttresses flying along the sides, never hear the bells ring above or see the people worshiping inside. They give their life to this work but with no satisfaction of seeing their life'swork completed?
My simple math on this equation was missing! I know that people of earlier days were all god fearing but to be honest I did not really think about how much it impacted our great masterpieces. How influential god really was on perfecting these works of art! So selfless in this life for the promise of all your desires fulfilled the next life. Such an interesting concept.

I’m also very impressed when I come across ancient texts and art work
It shows that even before the takeover of technology and engineering life was still as amazing for people and they did things that they felt very important and dedicated themselves to it.
A lot of artists have made artworks just as amazing as these and it keeps their name alive long after they die. It’s truly amazing to do something and let it live long after you and carry your name with it

It is truly quite fascinating how many people would use their amazing artistic abilities and flourish us with them. Imagine how life would be if we weren't slaves to society, a slave to money... If everyone just woke up and did what moved them without any worry or care about needing to slave in order to survive. The extent to which these kinds of monuments and artistic works of art is literally limitless with out the chains of money.

As a book dealer I truly appreciate seeing your photos on The Book of Kells. Truly Inspirational! I have not seen these images before. Thanks.

@donkeypong I'm from Southern California, and the Getty has been one of my favorite places. The Getty is a great place to visit. Not to mentioned, a great place for photography.
Interesting points made. Best wishes to you :) - @splendorhub

You're fortunate to have the museum there. It's one of my favorites.

If you ever get a chance to go to Washington DC, you'll have a blast with all the museums there. Great museums full of history and unique artifacts.(free admissions). Best wishes and Merry Christmas :) - @splendorhub

Yes, I've been to those also. Great place to visit!

Great post man.. All o the picture is really nice and historical. 'Getty Museum', I never heard about this museum before. I like to visit the museum. I had a chance to visit London Museum at Holborn in London. It was so big museum in the world. Every year too many people visit London Museum from whole world. Yeah Museum is most important for us or even for future generation also.Anyhow thanks for your awesome post.

Wow. Such a beautiful place and lovely pictures. Am an art lover so i definitely will fall in love with the place. Art is something that never goes wrong with me. I love this post. I will sure save this beautiful art work.

Congratulations @donkeypong, this post is the second most rewarded post (based on pending payouts) in the last 12 hours written by a Superhero or Legend account holder (accounts hold greater than 100 Mega Vests). The total number of posts by Superhero and Legend account holders during this period was 46 and the total pending payments to posts in these categories was $2838.86. To see the full list of highest paid posts across all accounts categories, click here.

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great view of old museum love to see old stuff

Thanks for sharing post.


Incredible scenery drawing art photo, painting colours and very well composed keep up the great work! have a nice day.

Guiness is also the kind of beer i worship!!
That illuminated manuscripts are very pretty in fact and well preserved!!!

what is art? why do we make it.

The Morgan library in NYC has the most first editions of just about any printed book in the world. For a manuscript nerd I highly recommend a visit if ever in NYC. Its really an amazing place.

This is really a great post.
The arts are awesome in this post.
Thanks to @donkeypong

wow exvellent post brother.thanks for sharing.resteem your post.

very important information for me. thanks @donkeypong

Good information
Thanks for sharing

nice to be share the Getty encompasses arts it will be new for me and i know to see and read some decriptions in it and also its its very intrested to see the illuminate pages @donkeypong

hi friends @donkeypong, your posting is great, introduce me @abiismail
I have upvote your post, please upvote my posting in the link below

hi friends @donkeypong, your posting is great, introduce me @abiismail
I sudak upvote your post, please upvote my posting in the link below

Hergün calışmak lazım bazende bir gün boşluga düşmek

This post literally deserves being upvoted even more than 1000$...
really enjoyed my time man..
and I always envy anyone studying poetry or literature..INVU (I envy you)

Then the, services was not based on the now, it was based of the after..So, comes the dedication to serve.

The post you have posted has many important information, which is very helpful for me. Through this post I learned something new. Thank you so much for posting so beautiful

great job @donkeypong , you really did a great work in finding these

nice coming from you

increíble la humanidad...

I do not trust those secret people who are afraid to show their face.
and they can still control the world... not good... very bad :(

i love picture

Chatcityde bundan iyi ve ankaşılır siteydi

The Getty is beautiful. I go to it all the time :)

These art works are amazing

Great post arts are awesome.. many importance lesson.. Thanks for sharing

this is a realy GOOD post !. Please keep it up. I already upvote. i like it,, Thank you for sharing.

veryy very.. congratulations..!!

Incredible,,Photo quality is very good.
painting colours r very well. .
Your writing has been so beautiful..Impressive posts in one word.

Donkypong..another amazing post. Very nice. I actually learn a lot from your posts. I look forward to what the future holds.

These are absolutely stunning. I saw these when I visited Ireland a while back. Thanks for sharing it here! Great photos. Great post. :D

Art works are indeed precious and priceless. Adding this to my library.

You have raised such a great topic in this era it is very difficult to give devotion with out any reward but the artists done a brilliant job it is appreciated.

i like your art.....beautiful art brother....

paintings and pictures into 1 in a frame. scratches and neat lines that reinforce the meaning of the image. camera, lens, lighting and color you combine to 1 in the frame of the camera that the results are very out of the can. hard work that results. thank you for sharing with us. my inspiration @donkeypong

wow nice story with beautiful photos :) great work

woww cool i like good wishes well preserved history ,vote me @donkeypong

está genial, me encanta¡

Sadly, for most people, especially in digitalised world (with almost digital minds) this type of art is considered to be boring..

Only cryptokitties!

Whoa! Truly devotion can bring out the best in people. I hope my recent devotion to steemit brings out the best in me.

very nice job bro.

totally intricate details.. I think I have moreover seen same illuminated manuscripts in a Armenian Church , they have one of those books displayed, actually the writing as well as very same. I particular praise how colourful they are..As you rightly said, the artists past going on in those hours of day dedicated all thier conduct yourself as thier assist to God. Hence, they were more tolerant
The fact that thier do something will assume to option two generations to resolved dint simulation them, all they believed is to get sticking together of the thier perform as the bolster to thier lord.
Interestingly,that's the Basic principle of the Bhagavad Gita to gain the right handy of simulation(Hindu Scripture).That is to Do your Action/exploit without the expection of the fruits of your undertaking/influence to the front
Don't melody a lot of accept looking hours of day Artists admit in the same principle.

I love history. Nice!

Its a beautiful articlee....tq for sharing to all...😘

Nice very good follow me @tjunaidi

Good Job bro !


Sungguh luar biasa museum yang mewah dan terlengkap... Hati ku sangat rindu ingin pergi ke museum itu....

Incedible artworks, and those bits of history about it is fascinating.

Art is really very beautiful and eternal.

Wonderful Illuminated Manuscripts at the Getty Museum.I think this the greatest museum in the world.Your writing is brilliant. You nicely explain the whole museum.This is the historical place I have never seen this place yet now.But I have read your post its makes me huge pleasure and increase my knowledge.You write the Getty Center holds one of the world’s most impressive collections of illuminated manuscripts.I agree with you.Really they do a good job of featuring these in regular exhibitions.I am also many times see the art.Really it is amazing. Excellent room ,full of paintings. I am looking at some nice pictures of Jesus and angels and glorious portraits and landscapes really I am lucky to seen this. Thanks bro to sharing this kind of historical place full information.I will waiting your another Excellent post.

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