The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Lecture - Tuesday 13th July 2010

Approaching an Ethiopian Icon

Given by - Annegret Marx

Reviewed by - Geoffrey Ben-Nathan


Annegret Marx opened her talk telling us that her art teacher, Fritz Weiss, had advised her to start painting copies of Ethiopian icons. Consequently, Annegret has found herself able to empathise with the original Ethiopian artists: "I consider all my painting as an homage to the first artists who first painted them", she said.

Certainly, this discipline has given her a unique perspective with which to examine and explain Ethiopian icons.

Up for examination this evening was SMV 86-307 678 from the Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde in Munich, Germany.

The 17th century icon is in the form of a diptych, 65cm x 35cm, painted in a style which denotes it as first Gondarine style (1640-1710). A keynote feature of this particular painting style is the way in which each human face is shaped.

The diptych depicts a number of biblical scenes: the left panel, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and Christ, the Man of Sorrows; the right panel, the Covenant of Mercy, St Mary with the Child, and King David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant at Kiryat-Yearim.

Annegret pointed out the colour symbolism used in icons first explained to her by her Ethiopian artist informant, Markos: blue for Mary, gold for Christ. Mention was made of the pioneer work on dyes and colours by the late Patricia Tournerie. Anyone interested in understanding how icon paints are produced can now consult this work for plant recipes as the Anglo-Ethiopian Society has been given permission to republish the work.

As regards the making of the icon panels, the speaker advised that research into the precise materials used is "in its infancy".

Annegret made clear that the choice of scenes included in the diptych elaborates the self perception of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Ethiopian emperors derive their authority from David and Solomon's association with the Ark of the Covenant.

It is not clear how the diptych came into the hands of the Munich museum. But one thing is clear: the Museum has made a very professional job of conserving and understanding the diptych's importance - not least with the aid and effort of Annegret Marx whose observations, together with excellent photos (which, for reasons of copyright we are unfortunately not able to reproduce), so enlightened us this evening. We proffer our most grateful thanks.

First Published in News File Winter 2010

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