The Lindisfarne Gospels at Laing Art Gallery
17 September–3 December 2022
The sky is the source of light in nature and it governs everything.
At the renowned Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle a new and enthralling exhibition features the Lindisfarne Gospels, which are on loan from the British Library until the 3rd of December 2022. The manuscript, which is composed of four books and dates back to the 8th century, is one of the world’s best preserved and most valuable illuminated books. It was written at Lindisfarne Abbey by a monk called Eadfrith, who took ten years to complete this masterpiece which was made in honour of St. Cuthbert. The book is made of vellum, that is, cattle skins that were cleaned and stretched and then cut to size. Each gospel has the portrait of the evangelist at the beginning and is richly illuminated in pigments extracted from plants and minerals, and the geometric patterns are influenced by Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Mediterranean designs. The Gospels are in Latin, but Old English translations were added later. The book was taken to the mainland when the monks left the island in 875 AD because of the Vikings’ raids that endangered their lives and possessions.
The exhibition impressively connects the ancient manuscript to our contemporary understanding of religious contemplation and spiritual journeys. Video design, drawings, paintings, sculpture, photography and the Turner Prize-winning Jeremy Deller’s new film are on display. Deller’s film imagines the Gospels on a journey from London to Newcastle in charge of a group of students who are taking it to the museum. The ending conveys a sense of mystery when the book reaches the Gallery in a magic atmosphere that underlines the continuity of the spiritual significance of the religious artwork throughout the centuries.
At the beginning of the exhibition there is an immersive digital video produced by design studio NOVAK that narrates the Lindisfarne Gospels’ creation during the medieval period and is centred on the theme of the tide in visuals and light projected on the walls and in mesmerising sounds. The first part of the exhibition features fragments of crosses and slabs from the 9th century with Christian symbols and religious scenes that were perhaps originally painted in bright colours. Some of the religious objects on display were found in burial plots, such as a metal bowl and a silver- and gold-plated brooch, the Rogart Brooch (8th century). The second part of the exhibition aims to connect the Lindisfarne Gospels to today’s experience of spirituality and explore it in the wider sense of the word ‘gospels’.
This contemplative experience is highlighted by the works of Guido Reni, John Constable, the Czech photographer Markéta Luska?ová, Zarah Hussain, and Kadija Saye, who was killed along with her mother in the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. The different artworks depict pilgrimages to holy places, hermits and saints, Polish religious festivals, Islamic contemplative techniques, occult spirituality, dreamlike states and healing practices. Pictures of nature and abstract paintings have key roles in the development of spiritual awareness and emotional healing after traumatic experiences. According to Kadija Saye, ‘we exist in the marriage of physical and spiritual remembrance’, which points to our ordinary life being connected to the landscape and to our inner life too. This might provoke a change which is both physical and emotional. It is a journey of self-discovery in which art is crucial. Being creative not only helps to heal but also becomes a form of religion in the contemporary world. Art galleries become places of worship of sorts that help us to make sense of our life and our world. Therefore, spirituality is conceived in a wider perspective, that is, in the way we perceive ourselves as being in a search for meaning that involves all our being. Spiritual fulfilment is therefore part of being human and cannot be disconnected from everyday life, and it is expressed in art too.
The permanent collection of the Laing Art Gallery, founded by the successful beer, wine and spirit merchant Alexander Laing in the 1900s, features donations by collectors and artists and purchased items as well, and was originally curated by C. Bernard Stevenson. The collection displays pictures such as ‘The Stone Pickers’ by George Clausen (1887), Stanley Spencer’s ‘The Lovers’ (1934), Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s ‘Love in Idleness’ (1891) and ‘Breton Shepherdess’ by Paul Gauguin (1886). The Gallery offers an interesting display that is embedded and goes beyond the exhibition; it inspires reflections on the significance of art in our contemporary uncertain world and how its influence can contribute to our personal well-being.
Carla Scarano © 2022.