This manuscript is a sənsul, also referred to as a “leporello,” “concertina,” or “accordion book,” all terms which reference its folded format. It consists of three pieces of parchment stitched togeth..more »
This manuscript is a sənsul, also referred to as a “leporello,” “concertina,” or “accordion book,” all terms which reference its folded format. It consists of three pieces of parchment stitched together and folded in rectangular sections. Each section features a painted miniature or text on each side, which we designate as a page. When unfolded, the sənsul includes 14 rectangular pages on one side of the stitched parchment, and 14 on the other. For clarity, and to reflect the way in which the sənsul is viewed, we have numbered the pages on one side 1–14, and those on the other side 15–28.
Pages 1–14 alternate between full-page miniatures (odd-numbered pages) and text (even-numbered pages). The text, written in Gəʿəz, is the Anaphora of Mary (Qǝddase Maryam). Each of these text pages contains ten lines of script, written primarily in black ink, with important scriptural names and phrases in red ink. In the twenty-ninth verse of the Anaphora, a priest speaks directly to Mary, asking “with whom or with what likeness shall we liken thee?” The next eight verses compare the Virgin to figures from the Old Testament. In the thirty-fifth and thirty-sixth verses the Virgin is compared to
"the golden omer of Elijah, the cruse of Elisha, the virgin conception of which Isaiah prophesied, the first giving birth without intercourse of which Daniel (also spoke), the mountain of Pharan of Habakkuk, the closehouse in the east of Ezekiel, the place in Bethlehem from which the law goes forth, the land of Ephratah of Micah, the tree of life of Silondis, the healer of Nahum’s wounds, the rejoicing of Zechariah, the clean hall of Malachi." [Marcos Daoud, and H. E. Blatta Marsie Hazen, eds., The Liturgy of the Ethiopian Church (Kingston, Jamaica: Ethiopian Orthodox Church, 1959), pp. 107–08.]
The full-page miniatures that alternate with the text pages illustrate this portion of the Anaphora. Each figure is identified by a Gəʿəz inscription located outside the lower edge of the frame. On page 1, an angel is shown touching Elijah’s forehead and gesturing toward two jars. On each of the next five illuminated pages, two of the prophets mentioned in the Anaphora are illustrated, each with an identifying attribute. On page 3, Elisha gestures toward three vases, while Isaiah points toward a star. Two lions can be seen at Daniel’s feet, and a mountain rises behind Habakkuk on page 5. On page 7, Ezekiel and Micah are separated by a built structure resembling a tukul, a type of traditional Ethiopian construction. Silondis and Nahum are similarly separated on page 9, this time by a tree toward which they both gesture. On page 11, Zechariah and Malachi face a central tukul.
The final illuminated page on this side, page 13, departs from this pattern; it depicts the Annunciation of the Virgin. Mary stands outside of a stepped tukul, next to the left edge of the frame. God is shown in bust at the center, inside an abstracted cloud border, accompanied by a dove. On the far right, the archangel Gabriel points upwards with his right hand and gestures toward the Virgin with a branch, held with his left hand. This is one of two standard representations of the Annunciation in Ethiopian art; the branch is a reference to the tree of Jesse.
Pages 15–28, on the other side of the sənsul, consist of fourteen full-page miniatures with scenes from the Passion of Christ, each identified by a Gəʿəz inscription placed outside the lower edge of the frame. The cycle begins with the Flagellation of Christ on page 15 and continues on 16 and 17 with the Crowning with Thorns and Christ Carrying the Cross. On page 18, Christ is depicted being stripped of his garments. The next four pages (19–22) depict moments from the Crucifixion: the Nailing to the Cross, the Crucifixion with Mary and John, the scene with the Piercing of his Side and the Offering of the Sponge, and the Division of the Garments. The next three pages (23–25) show the events following Christ’s death: the Deposition, the Preparation of the Body, and Burial. Page 26 depicts the Descent into Hell, and page 27 the Resurrection. On the final page (28) is a representation of Mary Magdalene greeting the resurrected Christ.
The color palette of the sənsul consists primarily of red, green, and brown. The backgrounds of all miniatures are divided vertically into color fields, with red on the left and green on the right. On pages 1–13, the figures are outlined in black; their skin tone is unpainted, and thus the color of the parchment. On pages 15–28, the green of the background is more thinly applied, resulting in a lighter tone. The figures on this side of the parchment are also outlined in black, and their skin is painted a rich brown. The clothes worn by the figures are similar on both sides. The prophets on pages 1–11 and Christ and Mary on pages 13, 20, 26–28 wear red tunics beneath striped mantles; the other figures are shown in various striped outfits.
Ethiopia and Eritrea have a long tradition of manuscript production, stretching back to the Aksumite Period (ca. 80 BCE – ca. 940 CE). Sənsul manuscripts have been created in the region since the late fifteenth century. Of the three types of manuscript production — the others being codices and scrolls — sənsul manuscripts are the least common. They typically functioned as private devotional books and could be carried by their owner in a case or displayed on an altar. In this way, they have characteristics of both manuscripts and icons.
This sənsul emits a strong fragrance. It would require a significant amount of time and/or exposure to imbue the parchment to this degree with the smell of incense.
Caitlin Mims, in Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art & Architecture 8, no. 1 (Spring 2022): 177–78. https://digital.kenyon.edu/perejournal/vol8/iss1/1/
Bequest of David P. Harris ('46), 2020
Page 1: 3 7/8 ✕ 5 1/8 in. (9.8 ✕ 13.0 cm)
Unfolded length: 69 1/4 in. (175.9 cm)
Ink and paint on parchment
Purchased by David P. Harris from Constantine Z. Panayotidis (Antiques by Constantine Ltd.) in London on October 21, 1975.