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THE TRENDS IN THE USE OF MINERAL-BASED PIGMENTS IN ETHIOPIAN ECCLESIASTICAL PAINTINGS: THE CASE OF CINNABAR, MINIUM AND ORPIMENT [Abstract ID: 0203-09]
Most of the studies on Ethiopian ecclesiastical paintings are from art historical perspectives that deal with styles, iconography, themes and the like. There is very scant investigation into the material aspect of the paintings addressing the nature of the pigments, binders, the techniques of execution, and origin of the materials, using archaeometric means. The use of a pigment depends on, among others, its optical properties, compatibility in a medium, availability in a particular place and time, affordability, the presence of a patron and symbolic meaning. Pigments and dyes derived from mineral, plant and animal sources have been used in numerous Ethiopian religious paintings using diverse media and techniques over a long period. Spatially the paintings are located in a wide geographical area of the country. Addressed here are the trends in the use of the three prominent mineral-based pigments in Ethiopian religious paintings: Cinnabar, Minium and Orpiment. The use of these pigments from the earliest extant medieval illustrations in illuminated manuscripts to the twentieth century icons are covered. The historical developments in the evolution of the procurement of these pigments, in a wider and global context, are revisited. The assessment of the trend is based on the results from in situ examinations of the paintings using portable analytical instruments and subsequent analyses on micro-samples in laboratories and advanced facilities. The fieldwork in the different parts of Ethiopia for on-site instrumental examinations, coupled with detailed characterization of the painting materials and techniques in the laboratory, is the first of its kind in the technical study of the paintings. The systematic technical investigation is instrumental to reach tentative conclusions on the utilization pattern of the pigments. The implications of the trends also prompt the questions of the provenance of the pigments, the characteristic features in the diversity of the pigments, likely technology of production and means of acquiring them. Further studies on physical, morphological, chemical and mineralogical characteristics of the pigments, and historical investigations into the trade transactions would shed more light in this respect.