Imagine, if you will, this scene: it’s the 6th century and you’re on a remote island off the coast of Scotland. It’s windy and cold in your stone hut. The sea’s battering waves create a relentlessly looping soundtrack to a day that consists of praying, chanting, worrying about Viking raids, and doing the work of your monastery.
You and your team of Irish monks have been charged with copying the gospels.
Your client is God.
You start with a sheet of vellum. You rub the vellum with clay, isinglass or with a mixture of ox-bile and egg-albumen. You ready your brushes which are made of hair from squirrel tails. You prepare a range of pigments including blue made from indigo or woad, yellow arsenic sulfide for a vibrant yellow, lead or crushed beetles to make red, and a copper green that you know will react to humidity.
You keep chunks of bread handy just in case you need to rub away a mistake. You use the skins of 185 calves to make the vellum. For years you write and decorate, write and decorate, write and decorate… And then, almost 700 pages later, you and the team agree that the book is just awesome. And you are right.
Because long after your days in that cold stone hut, and long after you’ve passed into your heavenly journey, your creation will be regarded as “the work of an angel, not of man”. Even right now in 2022, your book will still be considered “The Most Beautiful Book in the World”.
And so it is.
The Book of Kells (c. 800 CE) is an illuminated manuscript of the four gospels of the Christian New Testament as well as indexes and cross-references, summaries, and commentary. It is currently housed at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.
As we consume books on e-readers, hardly remembering the beauty of book covers and typography. As we wonder about whether or not we should buy art as NFTs. As we think about what we’re learning at our School of Beautiful Things, let’s take a moment to thank the monks who history will remember as Scribe A, Scribe B and Scribe C for the inspiration and dedication that led them to create The Most Beautiful Book in the World. Yeah, we think it’s pretty awesome too.