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Memory and Wonder: Our Lady Mary in Ethiopian Painting (15th–18th Centuries)

Chapter

Abstract

Representations of the Virgin Mary are among the most important iconographic themes in Ethiopian painting, and stand as testimony to the fundamental theological, devotional and symbolic role the mother of Jesus has played in the construction of Ethiopian religious beliefs, identity and cultural memory. During early Solomonic times (thirteenth-fifteenth centuries) her role was essentially Christological and salvific, as seen in the paintings in Biet Maryam, Lalibela. Perceptions and representations of Mary changed with the extensive theological reforms implemented by King Zara Yaeqob (reigned 1434–1468). With this royal patronage for her cult, Mary’s role as a maker of miracles became predominant and apocalyptic metaphors and narrative gained importance in pictorial representations, such as those in the Lady Meux A manuscript. Her eschatological role continued to evolve until the eighteenth century, when she was portrayed in an icon as a celestial empress.

Keywords

Fifteenth Century 17th Century Version Cultural Memory Symbolic Role Expressive Gesture 
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Notes

  1. 2.
    King Zoskales is reported to have had access to Greek literature-See Taddesse Tamrat, Church and State in Ethiopia 1270–1527, Oxford 1972, p. 21.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    This is how Sebastian Brock defines the nature of Saint Ephrem’s theology. See Sebastian Brock, The Luminous Eye: the Spiritual World Vision of Saint Ephrem, Kalamazoo, Michigan 1992, p. 15.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    From AD 400 onwards, Syriac writers too came under the strong influence of Hellenised Christianity. Ephrem, however, was active before this date, and his works constitute virtually the only evidence we have of a literature that emanates from a truly Semitic form of Christianity. See Brock, op. cit., (note 3) p. 15.Google Scholar
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    Roger Cowley, The Traditional Interpretation of the Apocalypse of St John in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Cambridge 1983, pp. 37–40.Google Scholar
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    Roger Cowley has drawn up a valuable diagram of the main sources for Ethiopian religious commentaries. It includes, among others, Ephrem the Syrian, Cyril of Alexandria, John Chrysostom and Theodore of Mopsuestia. See Cowley, op. cit., (note 5) p. 39.Google Scholar
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    Tamrat, see note 2 above, p. 58.Google Scholar
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    A. Grohmann, Aethiopische Marienhymnen, Leipzig 1919, pp. 96–97, strophe 62. Quoted by Ewa Balicka-Witakowska in relation to a representation of the Annunciation in which the thread is half red and half yellow. See Ewa Balicka-Witakowska, “Observations sur l’iconographie de l’Annonciation dans la peinture Éthiopienne”, Sven Rubenson (ed.), Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa, Uppsala and East Lansing 1984, p. 150. The manuscript referred to by Balicka-Witakowska is in Addis Ababa, National Library A5, fo. 17v.Google Scholar
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    Balicka-Witakowska, see note 16 above, p. 152.Google Scholar
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    Cyril of Alexandria is known to have been influential in Ethiopia, and it is not impossible that Zara Yaeqob knew his works on the Theotokos. See Cowley, see note 5 above, pp. 37–39.Google Scholar
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  44. 47.
    For a study of Saint Luke’s portrait see Hans Belting, Likeness and Presence (A History of the Image Before the Era of Art), Chicago and London, 1994. For a study of this image in Ethiopia see Ugo Monneret de Villard, “La Madonna di S. Maria Maggiore e l’Illustrazione dei Miracoli di Maria in Abissinia”, Annali Lateranensi, vol. 11, 1947, pp. 9–90.Google Scholar
  45. 48.
    Stanislaw Chojnacki, Major Themes in Ethiopian Painting, Wiesbaden 1983, p. 217.Google Scholar
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    See Belting, op. cit., (note 47) pp. 47–77, for a study of “unpainted” originals.Google Scholar
  47. 50.
    Budge, op. cit., (note 19) p. XLVII.Google Scholar
  48. 51.
    Budge, op. cit., (note 19) p. 47.Google Scholar
  49. 52.
    Budge, op. cit., (note 19) plate LXXII.Google Scholar
  50. 53.
    Manuscript of the Miracles of Mary No. EMML 4618, copied during the reign of King Labna Dengel (1508–1540) and presently preserved in the Ethiopian Manuscripts Microfilm Library, Addis Ababa, and the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library, Collegeville V, Collegeville (Minnesota); Miracle 103, “Against Those Who Rebelled against Zara Yaeqob”, f. 132r. Quoted in Haile, see note 1 above, p. 155.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Oriental and African StudiesUniversity of LondonUK

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