During the years before and after the year 1000, the remote and seemingly unpromising land of Ireland produced manuscripts and metalwork that put it in the front rank of artistic achievement, not just in the Europe of its time, but in the whole perspective of world history. This flowering of the arts had a religious context: Christianity reached Ireland in the 5th century and found its most vigorous expression in monasticism. The result was a concentration of creative energy on the arts of the church, notably illuminated Gospels such as the Book of Kells and the Book of Durrow, precious objects like the Tara Brooch and the Ardagh Chalice, and a whole treasury of crosses, reliquaries and manuscripts. The bizarre imagination, minute detail and decorative invention that made this art seem to be 'the work of angels rather than men' is still unequalled.
But magnetic and fascinating as these beautiful objects are, the lack of dates and documentation means that they have long been the subject of scholarly dispute. This book is the first serious assessment for a generation, during which time painstaking research has added a wealth of new information and fresh insights. No one is better qualified to present the most up-to-date account of the whole period that Peter Harbison, the acknowledged authority in Irish medieval archaeology. Surveying the art of Ireland chronologically, the book is illustrated with over 200 photographs, many in colour, of illuminated manuscripts, metalwork, architecture and sculpture, making this the most lavish as well as the most authoritative survey of the subject available.
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