Michelle P Brown on the art of the islands

  • Date recorded: 31 Jan 2018

  • Duration: 01:04:06

'When they come to print Jerome's Latin translation of the Bible made in Bethlehem in the 380s at the Reformation, they find that the Lindisfarne Gospels is one of the two books with the best version of Jerome's text within it – made in little islands off the furthest coast of the known world. And that was where the scholarship was at.'

– Professor Michelle P Brown

About this video

In this video, Michelle P Brown, Professor Emerita of Medieval Manuscript Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, discusses themes from her book Art of the islands: Celtic, Pictish, Anglo-Saxon and Viking visual culture, c. 450–1050, published by the Bodleian Library in 2016.

Michelle demonstrates how Iona, Lindisfarne and other tiny islands on the edge of the known world used their experience of centuries of trade and interaction, their knowledge of the natural world and vestiges of classicism in order to look at science, art, learning and faith for a new age.

These remote scholars created art that, while looking back to prehistoric, Germanic, Celtic, Mediterranean and Near East origins and influences, looked forward from antiquity to the new world of the Middle Ages. Viewed together, the art is a compendium of human history, revealing the intersection of influences and the synthesis of different cultural experiences.

In her entertaining, erudite and discursive lecture, Michelle discusses such cultural landmarks as the Book of Kells, the Tara Brooch, the Aberlemno Stones, the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Alfred Jewel and the Benedictional of St Ethelwold – proof if any were needed that this was far from being 'the dark ages'.

This lecture was held on 31 January 2018 during the Library's 2018 Melbourne Australasian Rare Books Summer School.


Michelle P Brown FSA is Professor Emerita of Medieval Manuscript Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, and a Visiting Professor at University College London and at Baylor University. She was formerly the Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library, and has published, lectured and broadcast widely on medieval cultural history.