Diptych by Ethiopian and early European artists

16th century/19th century
From Limoges, France/Ethiopia

This unique Ethiopian diptych combines the work of both Ethiopian and early European artists. It is in the form of a silver-gilt case. On the left side is an enamel from Limoges in France and on the right side an engraving of an Ethiopian saint.

The enamel shows Jesus Christ taking leave of his mother and is a copy of a woodcut from, German artist, Albrecht Dürer’s Little Passion (1434-1519). The enamel was probably made in Limoges in the mid-sixteenth century.

The engraving of the famous Ethiopian saint Abun Gabra Manfus Qeddus perfectly mirrors the image of Christ. The saint is shown with his arms raised in prayer surrounded by lions and leopards that are believed to have befriended him. He is said to have been clothed only in his own hair and the lines which criss-cross his body represent this. Images of this important Ethiopian saint only appeared in this form from the nineteenth century so it may be that the engraving replaced another enamel which became lost or broken.

The inscription around the saint is in Ge’ez, the ancient ecclesiastical language of Ethiopia. It names him and describes what is happening in the scene on the enamel.

It is likely that the two sides of the diptych were put together in Ethiopia during the nineteenth century, where enamels were given as important diplomatic gifts. They would have been specially produced for the Ethiopian royal court.

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Height: 11.50 cm
Width: 13.00 cm
Thickness 7.00 cm

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Donated by Richard Rivington Holmes


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