The Book of Kells was not a work for day-to-day use; it is thought to have been altar furniture used for special occasions. Scribes (who held high status within the ranks of the monks) painstakingly copied, in Latin, the four gospels of the life of Christ, with quill pens on vellum - stretched calfskin. (It is estimated that 185 calves' skins were used for the Book of Kells.) Beyond the handsome calligraphy, though, it is the embellishment and illustration of the book in brilliant colors that transforms it into a masterpiece of medieval art. The glowing colors were achieved with an astonishing range of pigments, from crushed oak apples to lapis lazuli to beetles' wings. Complex imagery with multiple symbolic meanings includes peacocks, snakes, animals, spirals and triskeles, and, of course, crosses of various styles. Images of saints are used, some rendered with great style and draftsmanship. Together these elements achieve both an immediacy and a sense of mystery
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