Transition from Iona to Lindisfarne—Influence of Frankish art—The “Opus Anglicum”—The Winchester school and its characteristics—Whence obtained—Method of painting—Examples—Where found and described.

The succession of the school of Iona shows us in the first examples of English illumination the type exemplified in the Book of Kells, modified, but not very much, by its transference to Lindisfarne.

Whatever doubt may be felt as to the influence of Byzantine or Romanesque models on pure Irish work, such as the Book of Kells, there can be none as regards the Lindisfarne Gospels. In the first place we have gold both in the lettering and ornament. This MS., known also as the Durham Book (Brit. Mus., Nero D. iv.), was the work of Abbat Eadfrith, of Lindisfarne. It has been often described, as it is really a most precious example of eighth-century art in this country. No other MS. of its time is to be found in any continental scriptorium to be compared with it. It is not a collection of clumsy inartistic attempts at ornamental writing, but high-class, effective work, which should be seen and studied by every student of illumination.

From its style of execution, its details of portraiture, and other features, it may be looked on as one of the earliest links between the two extremes of Oriental and Occidental Art.

Another MS. in the British Museum (Vesp. A. 1), which combines the Roman method of painting as in the Vergils with the penwork of these Anglo-Celtic Gospel-books, may also repay careful examination.

It is very possible that the celebrated scriptoria of York and Jarrow may have been furnished with both MSS. and copyists from Rome, yet there can be little doubt that the intercourse with Durham would be quite as active. Nor is it less probable that similar intercourse would keep them en rapport with Oxford, St. Alban's, Westminster, Glastonbury, and other scriptoria, so that in the eighth century England stood with respect to art second to no other country in the Christian world.

During the ninth century active intercourse with the Frankish Empire enriched English churches and religious houses, especially Winchester, with examples of Byzantine and Roman models, which Charlemagne had introduced into his own palatine schools. From such secondary models as the Sacramentaries and Evangeliaries executed at Tours, Soissons, Metz, and other busy centres of production, English illuminators succeeded in forming a distinctive style of their own. In the French or, rather, Frankish MSS., while the richness of the gold and the beauty and delicacy of the colouring are in themselves most charming, and while certain features may in general be recognised as no doubt suggestive there is nothing which quite predicts the remarkable treatment which characterises the English work. “Opus Anglicum” was its distinctive title. The term, indeed, was applied to all English artistic productions more or less—embroidery among the rest. The women of England, says William of Poitiers, were famous for their needlework, the men excelled in metal-work and jewellery. But it was the illuminated Service Books that have perpetuated the term.

From the Lindisfarne Gospels to the Winchester Benedictionals is a far cry—but Art is long and time is fleeting, hence many pages of intervening description must be omitted. We may, however, refer the reader to Westwood's Palæographia Sacra Pictoria, the Palæographical Society's publications, and other works, for enlightenment on this period. On the Rouen and Devonshire Benedictionals much interesting information may be found in vol. 24 of the Archæologia and in the recent volume of the Bradshaw Society concerning them.

The work is peculiar; and if we consider the treatment of foliage apart from the colour, we cannot but notice its similarity to the ivory carving observable in the consular diptychs. Ivory carving was then a popular artistic occupation. The foliage is graceful, the composition well-balanced, and the colour mostly bright body colour applied in the Greek manner. The fault of the heads is that they are too small for the figure, and of the draperies that the folds are overdone too much fluttering detail. The gilding differs from the Byzantine in not being laid on the vellum in the form of burnished leaf, but painted on like the colours, not only in the figures but in the framework and ornaments.

The British Museum contains several characteristic examples, but, as has been said, the very finest are those at Rouen and in the library of the Duke of Devonshire.

Perhaps no genuine example exists earlier than the Golden Charter of King Edgar of true Winchester illumination, executed forty years after the accession of Athelstan, whose Coronation Book (Brit. Mus., Tib. A. 2) is most probably not English at all, but Carolingian of the finest type. Many other scriptoria in England in the tenth century were equally busy with Winchester, but none could vie with the royal city in the production of illuminated books.