In Eritrea/Ethiopia (the ethnic group Tigrinya, Tigray and Amhara) tradition bride and groom wear a black velvet cape (called “Ghaba”) and crown with gold broidery to symbolize that they are the king and queen of their household. In this picture the Bride is muslim, which probably makes her part of the Jeberti (the muslim Tigrinya). It is uncertain if the man is muslim or christian. But that wouldn’t matter, would it.
This is the Church of Saint George, one of the so-called Eleven Monolithic Churches in Lalibela in the Amhara region of Ethiopia. The Church of Saint George, which in the Amharic tongue is called Bete Giyorgis (translit.), is carved in situ, which means “in place”, without the intention of relocation. The church is carved out of a single block of solid rock in the shape of a cross, and have sometimes been referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World. They are believed to have been created in the 12th century AD.
In Ethiopia customized protective scrolls that interweave sacred imagery with textual prayers have been prescribed by traditional healers for over two thousand years. These were carried on the person of the individual to whom they were specifically dedicated to shield them from harm.
Often the customized content of a scroll is astrologically determined. In Ethiopia as in ancient Greece, each human being has a corresponding zodiac sign associated with a particular destiny and talismanic character. The iconography of the scrolls thus alternate between talismanic “seals” and representations of saints, angels and archangels shown in the act of fighting demons. The seals are modeled on the seal of God that was revealed to King Solomon and feature geometric patterns intertwined with stylized representations of multiple visages and eyes that indicate prayers for divine intervention.
In the seventeenth century, Ethiopian artists were increasingly exposed to forms of expression from Europe. During this period, double-sided diptychs became popular among the nobility as pendant icons worn suspended by a cord around the neck. The subject matter depicted on this example is a standard program for this genre of personal icon, as are the intricately carved cruciform designs that enhance the exterior surfaces of the protective covers.
This icon is a classic example of the painting style developed during the late seventeenth century at Gondar, the trading center where King Fasiladas (r. 1632–67) established his capital. Portrayed frontally with slightly turned heads and simple, iconic gestures, the figures are superimposed upon neutral backgrounds. Bodies are delineated with thick black outlines, while faces are composed of flat areas of pink and orange. Curving lines and attenuated arcs are employed to evoke the folds of draped robes and mantles.
The double-sided pendant contains four painted surfaces depicting Christian subject matter. On one side of the main panel, the Virgin Mary appears seated, holding Christ and flanked by archangels carrying swords. Grasping the Book of the Gospel and making a gesture of benediction, the Christ Child gazes lovingly at his mother, who in turn stares out toward the viewer. On the outer panel (the interior surface of the cover), Saint George appears on horseback slaying the dragon. This combination of saints was extremely popular in Ethiopian religious painting, and served to emphasize the close relationship between the Virgin Mary and Saint George, the soldier of God who was her constant companion. The opposite side of the icon illustrates the Crucifixion, with Mary and Saint John standing sorrowfully to either side of Christ. The outer panel illustrates the Resurrection, in which a monumental Christ raises the diminutive figures of Adam and Eve by their arms. A flag of victory to Christ’s right indicates this triumph over death.