Symbolism in the Book of Kells

there's only one depiction of a woman in

the entire book of kells this is found

on folio seven verso and is the earliest

known or at least the earliest surviving

image of the Virgin and Child in Western

art country to the biblical description

of Mary coming from relatively humble

origins here she's shown as an empress

she's seated on a throne that has been

encrusted with jewels of the type that

we might expect to find in contemporary

Irish metalwork the back of the throne

terminates with a lion's head possibly a

reference to the Old Testament

description of Solomon's throne which

was also decorated with Lions heads and

so like Solomon an indication of Mary's

wisdom she's dressed in purple a color

reserved for royalty and the sheer

translucent nature of her skirt showing

a hint of her legs beneath is suggestive

of silk a very high-status

imported cloth the pattern of three dots

is found on contemporary fine fabrics

from the east but some have also

suggested that it may represent a symbol

of the Trinity or even an allusion to

the Virgin's milk the little diamond

shape on her breast may represent a

brooch but might also be an allusion to

the lozenge symbol of Christ in common

with contemporary images of em presses

Mary is also surrounded by four

courtiers in this case replaced by


these have been identified as the four

Archangels Michael Gabriel Raphael and

Uriel three of the angels hold flah

belly or liturgical fans and the fourth

possibly an instrument for sprinkling

holy water the Christ child is seated on

her lap with his hand placed on the

Virgin's clearly visible breast an

allusion to Mary is Mother of God and

perhaps also to the milk of Christian

instruction the elaborate frame around

the image may reference the artwork that

inspired the bull cows artists the

composition and symbol as

of the image find some close parallels

in panel paintings of the Virgin and

Child from the Byzantine East its

appearance so far Northwest seems to

coincide with the growing cult of the

Virgin Mary that was being promoted by

the Colombian churches around the time

the book of kells was made six small

heads in profile are set into the frame

of the image these direct the viewers

gaze across to the next page this

contains the synopsis of events

recounted in Matthew's Gospel and more

particularly the passage that announces

the birth of Christ