Skip to Content

Art Gallery of Ontario

Keyword Site Search

Art Matters Blog

A spotlight on Ethiopian art

February 11th, 2019

Ethiopian. Diptych showing Four Ethiopian Saints: Gabra Manfas Qeddus, Unknown, Takla Haymanot and Ewostatewos, 17th century. Paint and gesso on olive wood, string. The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario. © Art Gallery of Ontario AGOID.107383

Have you ever looked at historical objects and imagined how they were viewed in their past life? We think about it all the time. Especially with the artworks from the Middle Ages that are part of Ethiopian Art, 1400–1900: A Living Culture on view now on Level 1 in the Thomson Collection of European Art.

Ethiopia’s Aksumite Kingdom converted to Christianity in the 4th century, prompting the rise of Christian literary and artistic tradition. Today, more than half of Ethiopia’s population identifies as Christian and objects like the ones on display in the exhibition still hold cultural significance.

As you walk through the gallery space, you’ll see hand crosses, manuscripts, scrolls and icons that illustrate the story of Ethiopia’s religious rise.

Ethiopian. Diptych: St. George and the Dragon, and Virgin and Child with Saints, Unknown. Wood, string. The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario. The Thomson Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario AGOID.107384

During their time of origin, pieces like Hand Cross, 15th century, which has careful latticework and near-perfect symmetry, and the intricately carved designs and bold imagery of the object Diptych: St. George and the Dragon, and Virgin and Child with Saints would have held great religious importance to people of the church. As you admire these items, imagine them in their previous lives, lit by nothing more than candlelight, adorning places of worship or gracing the hands of religious figures.

The University of California, Davis’s Professor of English Literature, Seeta Changanti and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York’s Assistant Curator of Medieval Art, Andrea Myers Achi talk about these two unique pieces and explain their symbolism.

Experience it for yourself. The Ethiopian Art, 1400-1900 exhibition is located on Level 1 in the Thomson Collection of European Art and is included in General Admission.

Are you an AGOinsider yet? If not, sign up to have stories like these delivered straight to your inbox every week.

Comments are closed.