Saturday, July 25, 2009

Mary and Her Son, and Apostles and Saints George and Theodore

Title: Mary and Her Son, and Apostles and Saints George and Theodore

Artist: (Unknown)

Medium: Tempera on wood

Size: 25 x 40 cm

Date: c. 1480

Location: The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

The dominant image of this diptych is that of the Christ Child as he touches his mother's chin, a gesture of affection that was probably inspired by 15th-century Italian paintings then greatly admired at the Ethiopian royal court. Further imagery on the diptych that had great appeal for the upper classes in Ethiopia was the victorious saints on horseback, such as Saints George and Theodore on the right-hand panel. Ethiopian noblemen were well trained in horsemanship and combat, and had as much admiration for these battling saints as the European counterparts.

The origins of Christianity in Ethiopia date back to at least 316 AD, after two survivors of a voyage of exploration along the coast of Africa were taken to the court and given positions of trust by the monarch. They both practiced the Christian faith in private, and soon converted the queen and several other members of the royal court. However, the Ethiopian Church claims its origins from the royal official said to have been baptized by Philip the Evangelist, as recorded in Acts of the Apostles chapter 8:26-40. The Angel of the Lord had sent Philip south from Jerusalem where he encountered an Ethiopian, a eunuch of great authority under the queen of the Ethiopians. Philip helped the Ethiopian interpret a passage he had been reading in Isaiah, and used this passage as a starting point to explain the Good News about Jesus Christ.

The artist is most likely a follower of Fre Seyon, the celebrated 15th-century monk and artist. Seyon is credited with the development of the devotional Marian Icon images and style. He left only one signed work during his career, which may be dated to the period of about 1445-80. Mary became an extremely important figure in the Ethiopian church when Emperor Zar'a Ya'eqob (r. 1434–68) mandated the reading of the Miracles of the Virgin Mary, and that she be honored at most of the thirty feast days in the liturgical year.

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