Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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Lorenza MAZZEI, Università di Napoli

Ethiopia preserves a precious heritage made of liturgical items including wall paintings, icons, crosses and illustrated manuscripts. Many of these objects are still in situ (namely in churches and monasteries) where they continue to perform the function for which they were created. Like any other artefact, they are the expression of a culture stating their function and use together with their constitution. As well as in the past (not unlike what happened in our medieval tradition) for the believer, these works are playing a mediating role with the divine, of which they are meant to be a reflection, according to the words of St. Paul per visibilia ad invisibilia. The study of traditional Ethiopian painting today represents for us the opportunity to investigate the particular type of relationship established between the religious image, its direct users, its commissioner and its creator. This means understanding the interpretative categories with which the objects are evaluated in their land beyond the criteria applied by Western scholars, who distinguish first of all between functional and aesthetic categories, risking to prevent ab origine a correct understanding of the phenomenon. The two levels are absolutely interpenetrated and even when an aesthetic attention is manifested, this distinction does not introduce any dichotomy between the objects but places them along a single line, differentiating them gradually. The study of the relationship with the sacred object, in particular traditional religious painting, involves investigating all its implications, beyond the strong and evident religious connotation that it presents. In a certain sense this means unravelling a tightly intertwined bundle of different ways of looking at the same object, to let emerge what is never directly explained but declares itself through the widespread behaviours that are performed around the image.