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Ethiopia, Africa




Stone, leather string, and possibly cinnabar


Left panel: 3 5/16 ✕ 2 11/167/16 in. (8.4 ✕ 6.7 ✕ 1.1 cm)

Right panel: 3 5/16 ✕ 2 9/165/16 in. (8.4 ✕ 6.6 ✕ 0.7 cm)

8.52 oz. (241.5 g)

Credit Line

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

Accession Number



Purchased by David P. Harris from Maria Teresa O’Leary (Nuevo Mundo) in Alexandria, Virginia on February 28, 1976.


The leather strings that tie the two panels together are broken.


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, 150–56, 161–64, cat. 30.


This stone diptych features four carved surfaces with Christian-themed iconography commonly found on Ethiopian painted icons (see 2020.190). Leather strings threaded through pierced holes fasten the two panels to form the diptych. A recess in the interior of the left panel accommodates a raised surface on the right panel, allowing a snug fit when closed. The reddish tint on the object may be traces of cinnabar, also found on similar objects. The diptych can fit into one’s palm suggesting a personal devotional object.

The front cover features a thin, unadorned border that encloses a carved frontal depiction of an angel with spread wings, their arms crossed over the chest, and their hands framing the face. The angel wears a long-sleeved garment with vertical stripes, and a belt around the waist. The angel’s round eyes stare directly at the viewer.

The upper portion of the cover’s interior surface, the left panel of the diptych, features an equal-armed cross with quatrefoil finials. To the left and right of the cross are wavy stripes. Below this decoration is carved recess, measuring three-eighths of an inch deep (1 cm).

The recess contains an image of the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child flanked by two bodiless angels, a standard Ethiopian Orthodox iconography. The angel on the right has a halo while the other does not. Wings, indicated by faint carved lines, emerge from behind their heads. Radiate haloes encircle the Virgin and Child. The half-length Virgin carries Christ with her left arm while gripping a cloth in her left hand. She makes a sign of blessing with her right hand, extending her index and middle fingers, as she gazes at the viewer with her large round eyes. Christ holds an object in his left hand, possibly a closed scroll, and makes the gesture of blessing with his right hand, as he looks at his mother.

According to an account from the Miracles of Mary, a servant had a vision where the Virgin took her mappa, or handkerchief. Scholarship often associates the iconography portraying the Virgin with the handkerchief to a the painting of the Virgin and Child from Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, copies of which were brought by Jesuit missionaries to Ethiopia in the 1570s. King Zärʾa Yaʿeqob (r. 1434–68) amplified veneration of the Virgin and required readings of her miracles during each service; more than 600 of these miracle accounts survive.

The interior of the diptych’s right panel is carved with two frames. The exterior frame features a harag, or tendril-like decoration, often found in Ethiopian manuscripts and on hand and processional crosses.The interior frame is undecorated with an equal-armed cross at the top center, matching the cross on the left panel.

Below the cross and within the frames is the raised surface that nests inside the left panel’s recess. The protrusion features an image of a man in frontal view with no identifying inscription. The figure has a short beard, wears a long-sleeved garment with vertical stripes on the lower half, and is adorned with a belt around his waist. He points upward with his two index fingers, as he gazes toward the sky.

The diptych’s back cover also features a double frame, the style of which matches that of the interior carving of the right panel. Inside the frame is a frontal figure raising his arms while pointing upward with his two index fingers. He wears a body length, textured garment with sleeves that hang low, almost touching the ground. His long straight beard extends to the ground while the scalloping around his head indicates he has curly hair. While this figure is not named by an inscription, these iconographic elements identify him as Gäbrä Mänfäs Qəddus. This hermit saint lived in the wild and adhered to a strict ascetic life, including forgoing clothes. The textured details on the diptych represent the hair God provided Gäbrä Mänfäs Qəddus to protect him from cold weather. Painted depictions of the saint often include wild beasts (see 2020.190).

Sonia Dixon, in Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art & Architecture 8, no. 1 (Spring 2022): 161–63.

2020.193.pdf (356 kB)
Purchase Receipt and Supporting Materials

2020.193-covers.jpg (4227 kB)

2020.193-closed.jpg (10057 kB)


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