Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ethiopian Icons

I have just acquired a small collection of Ethopian icons. They are all painted in the 20th century on goat skin in the most wonderful colours, the draughtsmanship is amazining. The above, presumably the Eternal Word seems to be a photographic reproduction, though it is on goat skin, the rest are obviously painted.
Click to enlarge
The Trinity

This is St Michael "in Power". Anyone know what the inscription says?

The Eternal Word or God the Father?

I have no idea what this is, there are slight traces of gold (leaf?) on the animal being offered to the serpent.

An anonymous saint, can anyone give a name?

St George

Archangel Gabriel

Mother of God Archangels

Mother of God Archangels

St Michael with angels
I have no idea what this represents, it is the crudest, it has gold and silver paint on it, is it perhaps a between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba? The figure with the pet lion (of Judah?) is beardless, there is an inscription.

Anyone read Ge'Ez or know about Ethiopian iconography?


Father David said...

Father, I suggest that your anonymous saint is Abuna Tekle Haymanot who is usually depicted in Ethiopian iconography as having one leg and six wings. Legend has it that he spent seven years standing on one leg praying before eventually his spare leg withered away and fell off.

Gigi said...

You have "acquired"? :) I think they're stunning - apart from the serpent devouring it's sacrifice which niggles my vegetarian sensitivities! Gorgeous colours. Over the past few years I have collected some lovely little icons and triptychs, mainly eastern European: your acquisition looks much more colourful and the stylism is quite different. The last things I acquired were some Hobnobs from my neighbour and a Portmeirion watering can from the SVP shop on Lewes Road! You don't indicate how big these are; are you displaying them together?

Fr Ray Blake said...

Gigi,Most are the width of A4, just fitting on my scanner.

pelerin said...

Pleased to say my pictures on blogs have returned in time to enjoy these amazing examples of Ethiopian religious art. What amazing vibrant colours and haunting faces.

I am now prompted to look up details about Abuna Tekle Haymanot. Not sure if he was a man or an angel but a dramatic legend none the less. Incidentally if that was his spare leg, how many legs did he have to start with?!

Gerald said...

They certainly beat the ugly modern abstract "primitives" we've been producing over the last several decades!

pelerin said...

The Ethiopian icons of the Mother of God with Angels seem to have been influenced by 'Our Lady of Perpetual Succour'. Almost an African version. I notice that there is even a small fringe (?) on one side of Our Lady's robe as there is on Our Lady of Perpetual Succour but on the opposite side. Every detail has a meaning on OL of PS but I have forgotten what the fringe signifies.

pelerin said...

The strange one with the missing leg has caught my imagination and I have found several references including a video showing another icon of him with an amazing musical background of Ethiopian chant.

There is also a poem which begins:-
'A more surprising saint there's not
'Than Abune Teklehaimanot
'He is my all time favourite saint
'There is none other quite so quaint.'

I hope he had a sense of humour as I found myself laughing out loud when I got to 'Until the day one leg fell off.'

Sorry Father - but I do find his story impossible to believe but I love the art work.

Gigi said...

@ Pelerin: I agree, there is a similarity with images of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. And how diligent you are to get gone on the research like that!
@ Father Ray: I know you said the icons were painted on goat hide; I assume they are not stretched over any type of frame. It seems a shame not to display them collectively. although that will take up a fair amount of room. You haven't revealed yet where you acquired them from... I love the ernest expressions of some of the faces. Thanks for posting them!

Grace said...

Pelerin. See the Web on Indian Sadhus.

"The rigor of the spiritual practices in which contemporary sadhus engage also varies a great deal...very few that engage in the most dramatic, striking austerities—for example, standing on one leg for years on end or remaining silent for a dozen years...

I have seen footage of a withered arm somehow held up for years!
The legend is perhaps based on this sort of practice.

Terry Nelson said...

"The Ethiopian icons of the Mother of God with Angels seem to have been influenced by 'Our Lady of Perpetual Succour'."

They are actually based upon the Roman image “Salus Populi Romani”
found in the Basilica of St. Mary Major. The image was propagated by the Jesuits, but I forgot the dates for their activity in the region.

Beautiful acquisitions Fr. Blake.

Terry Nelson said...

I just Googled it - Jesuits were active in the 17th century. Check out this site:

Father David said...

Quite so, pelerin, quite so - perhaps I should have referred to his superfluous leg? I believe that initially he possessed the requisite two (as shewn in the icon)! A further legend about the great Abuna Tekle said that he subsisted one one seed a year fed to him by a bird. When visiting the monastery at Debre Libanos (where the great man is held in high regard)in Ethiopia the monk I told this legend to looked at me and said - "No, that is not possible!" Well, possible or not - the fact that he required any sustenance surely proves that he was human rather than angelic.

Gigi said...

@ Terry Wilson: Hi Terry, interesting site on the Jesuits, thanks. I thought the widely known image of Our Lady of Prepetual Help was influenced by the Salus Populi Romani? I have some Greek and Czech Madonna icons and assumed the overwhelming influence was the Hodegetria. If you know of any other interesting sites, please share!
The really lovely thing about these Ethiopian icons is that their colour and form will appeal to children, as well as art lovers, theologians and historians.

Unknown said...

The British Museum has a large collection of 20th century Ethiopian religious art. One of the curators might assist. They are usually very helpful for serious enquirers.

Unknown said...

The British Museum has a large collection of modern Ethiopian religious painting. You may wish to contact one of the curators. They are usually helpful for genuine and serious enquiries. If they do not know they will refer you to sources where you might find the necessary information

Richard said...

Quite spectacular, Father, but I can't say I like the big-eyed 'naive' style.

When I was in Armenia a few years ago I brought back a religious painting, also on animal skin (my Armenian was not sufficient to discover which sort of animal). That has the same bold colours, but a more European medieval style, which I rather like.

Similar to this sort of thing:

Gigi said...

Thanks Terry - I don't get to London much these days but incorporating a trip to the British Museum would certainly sway me a bit towards the smoke!
I admit I have never made an effort to look at Ethiopian art there; I can see that the naivete of style might not be to everyone's taste, but I find it very appealing.

ybmwengesha said...

well first of all the drawings of Ethiopia more specifically that of the Ethiopian Orthodox church are symbolic and some how the colors of the pictures are similar with the skin colors of Ethiopians. Abune Takla Hemanote is one of the saints of Ethiopia who have established the well known "Elbianos" monastery. Legend say it he prayed standing on his one feet for many years and because of his dedication God gave him wings like the angels. Above all Tekle Hemanote is acknowledged to ascend to heaven and worship God with the 24 elders which are indicated on Revelation.According to the teachings of the Ethiopian Orthodox church the 24 elders on revelation are the 24 priests of heaven, so Tekle Hemanot was had the privilege to be one of the the priest with the 24 priests and worship God.The other thing is the drawings of Mary " Mother of God" is one of the amazing drawings which is very symbolic.Lets start with the color of the cloth that Mary wears, all the time the Ethiopian Orthodox church depict the drawings of Marry with two colors with the red and blue.The red color is the inside dress the she wares and the blue is the outside cloth which is used among the Ethiopian the previous Ethiopian queens that shows the autonomy of queens.So there is a reason why Marry wares the red in the inside and why it is red, this is because the red is symbolic for fire and it is referring that Marry has carried the Son of God in her wombs.In the old testament God is revealed with fire God talked with Moses and Moses saw a fire.Plus to that Marry is depicted as the tree that Mosses saw on fire and the tree was not damaged at all. So as a result of that we Ethiopian orthodox say Marry have carried a fire but that fire didnt hurt her, just like the tree Mosses saw. The blue cloth shows the autonomy and holiness of Marry. Oh Marry you have carried the God that created the sky and gave birth to the one who have created the earth.Whenever in the drawings of Marry there are two angles in the right and on the left.This angles are Michael and Gabriel and they usually carry a flower and a sword.The flower is symbolic as its referring to Marry,she is the true flower because she have Gaven us the eternal fruit which is Christ.The sword shows the crucification of

Jon said...

The Ikon showing the goat being offered to the dragon shows the offering of the scapegoat (Leviticus 16:8). Every Yom Kippur, the Israelites were commanded to sacrifice a spotless lamb to God and to offer a pure goat to the demon Azazel, the jinn of the desert. This foreshadows how the offering of the Lamb of God, while seeming to be a victory for Satan was actually his defeat.

In the Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Churches, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) is correlates to the Feast of the Life-giving Cross. The Ikon for this feast show the finding of the True Cross by St. Helena.

Blezzy Bounce said...

The last icon looks very similar to story of Makeda, The Queen of Saba, who visited Solomon King and felt with love. Probably they had a son Menelik who based the Ethiopia emperors dynasty.

moonriver said...

The collection is very charming and I love the colors. In fact, I would like to republish the last photo (Makeda and Solomon - parchment) with an article on Queen of Sheba, with your permission. Of course, the source will be duly credited. I can give you all the details in further communication.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Yes go ahead

moonriver said...

Thank you. The article will be published in a journal. I shall send you the link as soon as it's posted (it will take another month to prepare the whole issue).

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

At Matins/the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday the Church gives us this 'ancient homily', I find it incredibly moving, it is abou...