ecclesiastical art

Theme of the Month: The Splendor of Axum

Axum, an ancient city state located in Ethiopia, holds the status of a glorified footnote in contemporary Medieval scholarship.

A powerful sub-Saharan civilization swept into oblivion by modern prejudices, merited only for adopting Christianity at a relatively early date (4th c).

For the month of August, I’m going to examine the various material remnants of the Axumite Empire and its legacy in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Destruction caused by raids and economic decline has left the quantity of book and icon painting to be lacking during the period covered in this blog, so I’m going to make an exception and include works up until the 17th century so as to illustrate the vibrant breadth of Ethiopian ecclesiastical art.

map of the Axumite Empire:

***I wrote a research paper on the genre of Ethiopian battle paintings in the 20th century, and that is about the extent of my expertise on Ethiopian art. If anyone would like to contribute/correct my errors, they would be most welcome to do so!***

“A silversmith, undoubtedly a specialist in ornamental silver, skillfully made this silbereinband, or solid silver binding, in the late seventeenth century. The artist, possibly from Bavaria, executed the design in relief. Christ, holding a cross, is represented on the spine, with a snake and a skull at his feet, symbolizing his triumph over Satan and death. Christ’s blood, gathered in a cup, refers to the Sacrament of Communion. On the front of the binding is a beautiful interpretation of the Last Supper, similar to the style of Italian sculptures of the sixteenth century. The heads of small winged guardian angels peek from the corners. The two silver clasps are adorned with floral motifs. The book enclosed in this silver binding is a late-sixteenth-century edition of an explanation of the ecclesiastical liturgy.”