Beauty in the Bible: Illustrating world's most widely distributed book

Updated 10th March 2017
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Beauty in the Bible: Illustrating world's most widely distributed book
Written by Georgia McCafferty, CNN
It's the world's best-selling and most widely distributed book, but most modern Bibles, with their dense black-and-white pages and often austere covers, are not normally associated with art.
However, this wasn't always the case. For centuries, rich, handmade illustrations and intricate calligraphy brought the biblical texts to life.
Some of the most beautiful examples have been brought together in "The Art of the Bible: Illuminated Manuscripts From the Medieval World," a new book by Scot McKendrick and Kathleen Doyle that highlights 45 examples from the British Library's vast collection of Christian manuscripts.
"Within the Christian tradition, this rich illustration is a way of signifying the recognized importance of the text as being a sacred text," explains McKendrick, who is head of Western Heritage Collections at the British Library.
From the embellished arches of the "Golden Canon Table" -- a text from 6th or 7th century Constantinople on gold-painted parchment -- to a book of brightly colored gospels from 17th century Ethiopia, "The Art of the Bible" shows the development of the art and calligraphy used to express Christian religion over more than a thousand years.
"We're very aware that, for many people, this is a sacred, holy text but at the same time it has a historical development, and we wanted to portray that history as accurately as we possibly could," says Doyle, lead curator of illuminated manuscripts at the British Library.
"It's not a religious book, it's an art book," McKendrick adds.

A public duty

The book proved to be a labor of love for the authors, who took pains to ensure they were presenting a wide chronological and geographic spread that was representative of the many different styles of texts in the library's collection.
This meant they had to make some difficult decisions along the way.
"Choosing which manuscripts to include was so hard, a bit like saying which of your children do you love the most, because you love them all," says Doyle.
Ultimately, both authors say it's given them great satisfaction to make the art within the illuminated Bibles they work with every day more widely available and understood.
"I think there is a strong public duty to make this material accessible, to engage people with it and remind them of what is essentially theirs," McKendrick says.
"The Art of the Bible: Illuminated Manuscripts From the Medieval World" by Scot McKendrick and Kathleen Doyle, published by Thames & Hudson, is available now.