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Ethiopia, Africa




Tempera on gesso-covered wood (possibly olivewood), pigment, and string


Central panel: 4 ✕ 3 1/85/8 in. (10.1 ✕ 8.0 ✕ 1.6 cm)

Side 1 wing: 2 13/16 ✕ 2 5/85/16 in. (7.1 ✕ 6.6 ✕ 0.5 cm)

Side 2 wing: 2 13/16 ✕ 2 5/81/8 in. (7.1 ✕ 6.7 ✕ 0.4 cm)

3.23 oz. (91.5 g)

Credit Line

Bequest of David P. Harris ('46), 2020

Accession Number



Purchased by David P. Harris from Xanadu Gallery in San Francisco on April 26, 1991.


There is extensive wear on the painted panels. The wood frame below the Virgin and Child has a chip.

Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

On the wing of side 2: Abba Gäbrä Mänfäs Qəddus; on the main panel of side 2, inscribed on their lower robe, left: Abba Täklä Haymanot; and right: Abba Ewosṭatewos.


Brad Hostetler, and Lynn Jones, eds., Ethiopian Objects in the Blick-Harris Study Collection: Art, Context, and the Persistence of Form, Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art & Architecture 8, no. 1 (Spring 2022): pp. 5–25, 67–75, 112–27, 150–56, 157–60, cat. 29.


This object consists of a central panel and two wings. String attaches each wing to the central panel. The central panel is painted on both sides; the two side panels are only painted on the interior. Their exterior faces feature carved wood decoration and serve as covers to the paintings on the central panel when closed. A string attached to the outer edge of each cover allows the wings to be fastened. When opened, the wings provide stability and allow the object to stand on its own. The loop at the upper end indicates that this object could also be worn or suspended. The small size suggests that it served a personal, devotional purpose.

The exterior of the wing on side 1 is carved with a central, equal-armed cross with trefoil finials on the left, right, and upper arms, and a lozenge-shaped finial on the lower arm. The cross is enclosed within a beaded lozenge, and each corner of this panel features a framed-X motif.

The interior of this wing features a haloed figure on a white horse, set against a background created by three horizontal registers; from top to bottom they are red, green, and red. The equestrian wears a blue long-sleeved tunic beneath a red short-sleeved tunic. He wears a yellow and red patterned mantle and matching trousers. He raises his right arm and holds a lance or spear, now badly abraded. The horse tramples a limbless reptile. This iconography depicts Ethiopia’s patron saint, Saint George, on horseback killing a snake. Some depictions portray a dragon with wings and legs rather than a snake. Equestrian saints are popular talismanic images in Ethiopian religious art.

The painting on the central main panel, on side 1, shows four haloed figures (cat. 29C). The Virgin is in a frontal pose with both of her arms wrapped around the Christ Child; they are flanked by two angels holding spears. The Virgin wears a red gown under a blue maphorion. Her halo is highlighted by red rays, a feature that is distinct from the other haloes. She also grasps a ropelike object in her left hand — possibly a handkerchief, or mappa — and gives the blessing gesture with her right hand, extending her first two fingers. Christ gazes at his mother as he holds up his right arm and hand with the gesture of blessing while holding a red closed book in his left hand.

The pairing of the Virgin with Saint George is first associated with king Zärʾa Yaʿeqob (r. 1434–68). According to legend, they are said to have helped the king triumph in a battle against Sultan Aḥmad Badlāy (r. 1432–45), a Somali kingdom in the Horn of Africa, in 1445. Zärʾa Yaʿeqob subsequently mandated an increase in the veneration of Mary through the making of icons, the establishment of festivals in her honor, and the implementation of readings from the Miracles of Mary in every church service. The king encouraged the faithful to wear images of the Virgin on their chest. Icons of Mary became more prevalent after the rise of this Marian cult.

On side 2, the cover features a carved checkered pattern with nine square frames alternating between two designs: an X motif and cross-hatching. The X motif is common in Ethiopian art, and is interpreted as “doves’ eyes,” which are apotropaic in function.

When open, the wing features a figure standing against a background with three painted registers: (from top to bottom) red, green and red. The figure lifts both of his arms with his palms facing upward — the same direction as his gaze — and is flanked by two lions. His body is covered in hair and he wears an orange harness strapped across his chest and torso. He has long black hair, a white beard, and a halo. This is an image of the hermit saint Gäbrä Mänfäs Qəddus (fl. fifteenth century) — founder of the monasteries Däbrä Zəqwala and Mədrä Käbd, both southeast of Addis Abäba — identified by the Gəʿəz inscription in the upper left corner.

Gäbrä Mänfäs Qəddus lived as a hermit who refused to wear clothes due to his ascetism.According to legend, God covered his body with hair to protect him from cold weather — portrayed in the painting as black hatching.The orange harness that he wears may represent heavy chains for mortification, emphasizing his ascetic lifestyle.In the wild, Gäbrä Mänfäs Qəddus befriended and tamed animals and is often depicted with them.

The central panel on side 2 features two similarly dressed haloed saints in frontal pose standing against a green background with Gəʿəz inscriptions on the lower half of their bodies. On the left stands Abba Täklä Haymanot (ca. 1215–1313), founder of the monastery, Däbrä ʿAsbo, later renamed Däbrä Libanos in Šäwa in central Ethiopia. Abba Ewosṭatewos (ca. 1273–1352), who stands on the right, founded his own monastic community in modern Eritrea (Erətra).The two saints stare upward, holding hand crosses in their right hand, similar to the ones featured in this catalog.Both figures wear knotted white turbans with black and red stripes, yellow shawls with different patterns in red, and red tunics.Ewosṭatewos has a black beard and Täklä Haymanot has a white beard, a feature denoting him as “father of all monks.”

These two monastic leaders are usually depicted together.They are both recognized as being religious and political leaders. A legend credits Täklä Haymanot with helping king Yəkunno Amlak (r. 1270–85) overthrow the Zagwe dynasty and restore the Solomonic dynasty in 1270.Ewosṭatewos criticized emperor ʿAmdä Ṣəyon I (r. 1314–44) for his involvement with his father’s wife and encouraged a ruler from Ḥamasen, modern Eritrea, to rebel against the emperor.

Sonia Dixon, in Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art & Architecture 8, no. 1 (Spring 2022): 157–59.

2020.190.pdf (1027 kB)
Purchase Receipt and Supporting Materials

2020.190-backopen.jpg (10873 kB)
Back Open

2020.190-closed.jpg (10125 kB)

2020.190-oblique.jpg (11346 kB)
Oblique view


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