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The Book of Kells Photo by: Google Images

Japanese pensioner spent 14 years copying Book of Kells

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The Book of Kells Photo by: Google Images

A Japanese pensioner has finally finished a copy of part of the Book of Kells – after 14 years.

The Sunday Times reports that 74-year-old artist Misae Tanaka has managed to replicate part of the decorated manuscript that is one of the most complex masterpieces of European art.

Tanaka, from Japan’s second largest city Yokohama, visited Ireland 10 times.

She spent more than 6,000 hours copying some 22 of the most illuminated pages in the historical tome dating back AD800.

She explained how her fascination began when she first visited the Book of Kells in Trinity College in 1994.

She said: “I was inspired and charmed by the document’s primitive patterns and archaic artistry.

“I’ve not been able to answer why the book is so special. I was swimming in the patterns of the Book of Kells. I was charmed by the book, the patterns and its colours.

“I looked at the blue and yellow lines and the next moment I wanted to draw these lines and paint.”

Tanaka’s duplications are contained in a privately published book entitled Ireland’s Greatest Treasure: The Book of Kells: Reproductions and Comments.

It was originally printed in 2009 in Japan and dedicated to the Irish people, but her work, including her copies of the book’s fully decorated pages, is largely unknown.

A new publication on the Latin text pays tribute to Tanaka’s work.

The Book of Kells, written by Bernard Meehan, explores the history and imagery of the tome and reveals how contemporary artists copied its pages to see how long it might take.

Meehan, the head of research collections and keeper of manuscripts at Trinity, gives credit to Tanaka’s diligence.

He explained how she spent 536 hours copying one page, the eight-circle cross page, which took more than 10 months to complete. Another, the Chi Roh page, took her 592 hours.

Meehan told the Sunday Times: “What Tanaka did was quite an achievement. She visits quite regularly and I did a foreword for her book.

“I think one of the reasons she took so long is that she was learning how to do it. She’s fascinated by it. I haven’t come across anyone who has done it quite so diligently, but she is following in a tradition.

“Margaret Stokes, of the medical family, in the 19th century did an extraordinary job on these pages too, and so did Helen D’Olier an Irish artist, and did so to a very high standard.”

Written by Irish monks, the book was started at a monastery in Iona, an island off Scotland, and finished at Kells, Co Meath, after Viking raids.

Meehan added: “One of the things that drew me to it was the sheer necessity of knowing about it because of my position here. But I also came from a background of 11th- and 12th-century manuscripts and I’ve developed an interest in how books were made and differentiation of hands, or scribes.

“I’ve been applying these techniques and understandings to the Book of Kells. I also became very interested in the relationship between the texts and the decoration. There are many gospels surviving since the Middle Ages, but there is really nothing like this.”

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