44 plates from a Christian illuminated album

SACRED | Worship

Gallery 281

Ethiopia, in the Horn of Africa, occupies a unique niche in geography and history. Never colonized, it was ruled until 1974 by one of the world’s oldest dynasties and developed its own form of Christianity. In the fourth century, King Ezana made Christianity the state religion, a decision that has shaped the art of the

Ethiopian Highlands ever since. The 43 leaves of painted vellum on display were created at the end of the 17th century by an unknown artist or workshop and were sewn together as a book. The illustrations depict scenes from the Old and New Testaments as well as Ethiopian saints, monks, and faithful seekers. The inscriptions describe particular scenes or figures and are written in Ge’ez, a language used today only in a liturgical context (much like Latin in the West). While the album was originally intended for private use, here we have brought it into the public sphere, accompanied by liturgical songs of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Feel free to sit, listen, and enjoy a meditative moment.

— Jan-Lodewijk Grootaers, curator of African art