richly hued biblical paintings of Ethiopian Icons primarily illustrate
scenes from the old testament. Until the middle of the 20th century,
the paintings of Christian Ethiopia remained virtually unknown
outside its borders. Yet over the course of the past millennium,
Ethiopian artists have produced a vast quantity of unique and
creative icons, illuminated manuscripts and wall paintings in
churches. By virtue of its geographical position, Ethiopian paintings
belong to Africa, however, due to close contacts with the adjacent
areas, their art incorporates elements of the Eastern and Western
Christian artistic tradition, as well as those of Coptic and Islamic
cultures and the cultures of the people of the Indian Ocean area.
Ethiopian artists succeeded in embracing and transforming significant
elements of these traditions, while their paintings remained a
unique phenomenon deeply rooted in the African soil.
The purpose of Ethiopian art is
to describe in color, the drama of the gospels. The icons have
been used for devotional purposes, both as objects of power and
as votive offerings. They are believed to be permeated with the
spiritual presence of the saints and in particular of the Virgin
Mary. Prayers made to an icon are offered directly to a specific
saint or to the Virgin herself. The icon can elicit either a blessing
on the righteous or punishment to wrongdoers.
The faithful often commissioned icons with the intention of obtaining
God's mercy, as well as the intercession and protection of the
These icons are made of wood and
painted panels, of stone, or a combination of both. They are used
on personal altars or worn as a personal talisman for protection
on a cord around the neck or tucked into a pocket. They are usually
a collaboration between two types of artisans: the carver who
makes the wood or stone case and a painter who draws upon a repertoire
of biblical themes.