The Lindisfarne Gospels: The finest ‘dropcaps’ ever drawn?

Straying a little way from type and typography, OK about 700 years before Gutenberg even made his moveable type, hand-drawn initials like these represent the birth of lettered and (much later) typographic dropcaps.

During the sixth and seventh century a unique art style developed in Ireland and Britain producing some of the earliest illuminated manuscripts which have influenced designers ever since. This Insular Period, saw the production of monumental works including the Book of Kells, Book of Durrow, and The Lindisfarne Gospels, as shown above.

For those interested in dropcaps, lettering or calligraphy for that matter, I’d recommend investigating these designs which are not only some of the oldest surviving illuminated texts but are also considered to be the greatest masterpieces of Anglo-Saxon and Celtic art. There are still thrilling design elements to discover in the details which would seem inventive today, such as letters nested inside other letters (Top: “Novum”).

Luckily for you, a number of years ago the British Library invested in the development of its Turning the Pages software for viewing scanned books on-line in detail. Take a closer look at the Gospels here. And while you’re there also see the 15th-century illuminated church book, The Sherborne Missal.