Kells Initials

The Book of Kells – Initials (and larger letters)

Among Kells’ many remarkable features are its thousands of initials, all of which are shown here. It is sometimes difficult to decide whether a letterform should be included or considered as just slightly larger than the normal script. This is especially the case with the et-ligature (&): compare, for example, all the instances on f. 105r with those selected here from that page (nos. 833-8).
While almost all of these are the work of the Scribe-Artist, the involvement of his mentor, the Master-Artist, is evident from time to time. In nos. 1229-30, for example, we can see his detailed interlace added to two large et-ligatures on f. 156v9 and 12 (the subscripted numbers here indicate the lines on the page). It is interesting to look out for further instances of his remarkably precise work.
The prefaces at the beginning of Kells are not gospel texts (ff. 8v-26v) and the initials on these pages are relatively small and simple. Obvious discrepancies in quality and appearance distinguish those on ff. 8v-19v from those on ff. 20r-26v (nos. 1-159 and nos. 160-269). These are indicative of the two phases of work I have identified in the creation of the manuscript, with those from the later campaign showing a decline in the quality of their execution. Despite their apparent differences, these are all the work of the Scribe-Artist whose imaginative virtuosity is evident throughout (other instances from the second campaign occur at the end of Matthew’s gospel: nos. 1054-82). The image file begins with the unusual occurrence of initials/larger letters as found in the pages of Kells’ Canon Tables (i-lxvi)
While this shows all the initials and larger letters in sequence as they occur in the manuscript, companion image files show these grouped as individual letterforms (a, b, c, etc.).

Decorated Initials

Display Lettering

Initial Letters A

Initial Letters B and C

Initial Letters D

Initial Letters E

Initial Letters Et Ligatures

Initial Letters FGH

Initial Letters i

Initial Letters LMNO

Initial Letters PQR

Initial Letters S

Initial Letters T

Initial Letters UVXYZ