The initial and initial paragraph the main object of decoration in Celtic illumination—Study of the letter L as an example—The I of “In principio” and the B of “Beatus Vir.”

From the moment when the initial was placed beneath the miniature the object of the whole design was not to give prominence to the initial but to the picture. Until then, that is, whilst the initial remains above or beside or outside the picture, it is the initial we must watch for style and development. And therefore we seize on one letter among those of the latter part of the eighth century, because of the frequency of its occurrence in the Gospel-book or Evangeliary, one of the commonest books of the time. This the letter L of “Liber Generationis,” etc., the commencing words of St. Matthew. This passage is always made of importance, and on the initial and arrangement of the words the artist expends his best efforts.

Properly I should here display pictorially the series of which I speak. It would certainly be the quickest way of explaining the matter. But as this is out of the question for many reasons, and as the present little guide aims rather at showing the way than marching through it, the reader must be content to take its advice about where to look for examples which it cannot reproduce.

Regarding the letter L as an index of time and style, first we may take the Irish L of the Book of Kells on p. 17, pt. 1, of Miss Stokes' Early Christian Art in Ireland. Note first the form of the letter, then the way it is filled up with ornament. Compare this, which dates from the seventh century, with a similar L in the Ada-Codex in the Town Library at Trèves, No. 22. A black and white copy of this is given in taf. 6 of Lamprecht Initial Ornamentik. This carries up the work to the second half of the eighth century. Next, say the L in the Town Archives at Cologne, No. 147. This belongs to the second half of the ninth century. The chief departure here is towards the knotted band work which figures so largely afterwards both in German and Italian book ornament, the form is still unchanged. But with the tenth century comes change of form as well as of mode of filling, as for example taf. 19 of Lamprecht, in which there is a complete alteration of treatment. The student may take for similar comparison also the I of “In principio” of St. John's Gospel, and the B of the first psalm in the Psalter, and carry the comparison on to the end of the fourteenth century, by referring to the MSS. in the British Museum and other public libraries, or in the numerous illustrated works to be found in those collections.