Pages from an Illuminated Gospel. Ethiopia, Highland Region. 1300s.
This illuminated manuscript of the Four Gospels was created in the late fourteenth to early fifteenth century at an Ethiopian monastic center. Its full-page paintings on vellum depict New Testament scenes from the life of Christ and portraits of the evangelists. The text is in Ge’ez, the classical Ethiopian language. Typical of Ethiopian painting, the imagery is two-dimensional and linear. Heads are seen frontally; bodies are often in profile. The artist abbreviated the facial features and treated the human form as a columnar mass, articulated in bold black and red lines.
In the fourth century A.D., the Ethiopian king Ezana converted to Christianity. Christianity became the official religion of the state whose legacy endured in various forms until the twentieth century. Around the time this manuscript was made, Ethiopia’s Christian kingdom expanded its influence. Monastic centers became increasingly important outposts of state power. They were also the chief sites of Christian art production. During the sixteenth century, Islamic incursions devastated the region, and most Christian Ethiopian art that predates the seventeenth century was destroyed. This illuminated gospel is a rare survival. -Met