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[PANEL] 0203 ETHIOPIA'S ECCLESIASTICAL PAINTING TRADITIONS: INFLUENCES, DEVELOPMENT, TECHNOLOGY, AND CONSERVATION
Stephen RICKERBY, Ethiopian Heritage Fund, London, UK
Lisa SHEKEDE, Ethiopian Heritage Fund, London, UK
ALELIGN Aschale Wudie; Sigrid MIRABAUD; Claire BOSC-TIESSÉ; KIDANE Fanta Gebremariam;
Dorothea McEWAN; Lisa SHEKEDE; Stephen RICKERBY; DAWIT Teferi
Ethiopia’s ancient diverse, and sophisticated culture is reflected in its unique visual arts traditions. This includes finely delineated illuminations on parchment decorating some of the Christian world’s most ancient gospels; bold and striking large-scale paintings covering the walls and vaults of Ethiopia’s magnificent rock-cut churches; and small, intimate portable icons intended for private protection and devotion. While these artistic traditions are underpinned by uniquely Ethiopian religious practices, the techniques and stylistic developments they exhibit reflect a confluence of indigenous traditions – notably from the Axumite empire – and influences from far beyond Ethiopia's borders, including ancient Rome, Coptic Egypt, renaissance Italy, India, and the Arab world, testifying to Ethiopia’s extensive networks of trade and cultural exchange. This panel traces the role of these influences, together with other factors in the development of Ethiopian painting such as patronage, and changes in religious thought and practice. It explores the diversity of techniques and materials from which they are made, and examines the challenges of conserving them.
PAINTING SAINT GEORGE: CHANGES AND THE CONTINUITY IN CHRISTIAN ART [Abstract ID: 0203-08]
Painting evolves as a universal phenomenon, and each evolution brings light to the human image and knowledge. A good example is the painting of Saint George. In Christian art history, painting Saint George underwent a series of changes. It has recorded dynamics of pattern, space, color, content and meaning. Using Critical Textual and Semiotics Analysis (CTSA), the paintings of St. George are carefully investigated in this paper. Data, that is, the paintings and texts (theological and historical texts) are collected from multiple sources and places. The CTSA and interpretive commentaries took the temporal, spatial, liturgical, hagiographical, historical, and artistic perspectives in a continuum. The continuum took a chronological pattern because the analysis is done in linear approaches. The commentary interpretations are also the theological paradigms of Christianity in which analytical professionalism is manifested.
THE MURAL PAINTINGS OF QORQOR MARYAM (13TH C. AD?): FROM THE MATERIAL AND TECHNOLOGICAL ANALYSIS TO A CONSERVATION PROTOCOL [Abstract ID: 0203-03]
In the course of a multidisciplinary research project on the process of the creation of Ethiopian painting we have studied murals of the rock-hewn church, Qorqor Maryam. Unlike the other churches of the Gäralta area, the murals are painted directly on the sandstone, without any ground layer. The historical interest of the paintings, their unusual technique and their poor state of preservation led us to launch a technological and conservation survey. The rock-hewn church of Qorqor Maryam was carved out of an Addigrat sandstone formation. The paintings were applied with a very fluid medium and the colors do not form homogeneous layers. The technical study indeed shows that the pigments are embedded in the sandstone rather than on its surface. Therefore, the state of degradation of the paintings is directly linked to that of the sandstone, which is currently under study, along with a climatic survey. The paper will focus on the results of the technical study of both paintings and sandstone, leading to the presentation of the conservation issues: the condition survey of the paintings, the rate and type of degradations of the sandstone and the influence of the inner climate.
THE MURALS OF DEBRE MARIAM QORQOR: A UNIQUE PAINTING TECHNIQUE? [Abstract ID: 0203-06]
The wall paintings in the monastery Church of Mariam Qorqor, are dated by art historians to belong to the second half of the thirteenth century, contemporary to the excavation of the basilica at the summit of Qorqor mountain. The local tradition claims a much earlier period for both events. The intricately depicted murals were executed on a calcareous sandstone walls and columns, some of them in combination with decorative reliefs. The ground preparatory layer of the paintings is not one based on earthen plaster, lime, or gypsum, but apparently, another sandy layer applied through the use of a binder medium. The pigments are also directly applied to the sandy layer preparation. This painting technique is not a customary type even compared to the wall paintings in other Churches in Gheralta locality that were similarly hewn out of sandstones. Presented herewith are the characterization of this painting technique and its comparison with those in the nearby Churches, other parts of the country, and beyond. The implications of the direct application of the painting layers to the sandstone substrate is also examined in terms of the conservation aspects of the wall paintings. The characterization of the painting materials and techniques of the murals was aided by the application of multiple analytical methods, in situ on the paintings and in the laboratory on samples. Such technical investigations, besides their relevance to well-informed conservation interventions, complement and support art historical studies.
THE PAINTED CHURCH OF BIRBIR GIYORGIS: AN URGENT CHALLENGE FOR CONSERVATION [Abstract ID: 0203-01]
The church of Birbir Giyorgis is situated east of Säqota in the Kebele Asserazos, in Säqota Wäräda, Lasta. In the vicinity of Säqota, on the old salt route from Mäqälä to Gondär, are two well-known churches, the rock-hewn church of Wəqre Mäsqälä Krestos and the cave church of Sayda Kidanä Məhrät. What is less known is the church of Birbir Giyorgis, with its painted walls, from plinths to drum, all around the mäqdäs. The paintings are dated, 1766 EC, the donor, Wag šum Gigar, is pictured on the West wall lying under a splendid of St. George. The paintings, however, are in a very poor state of maintenance. They are painted in the Ethiopian fashion on squares of cloth being glued to the wall. However, the cloth is fraying, the walls have long and deep cracks, the colours are fading. A substantial process of preservation and conservation is required to save this work of art, the glory of an 18th century fully painted church in Lasta.In my paper I will show the paintings on the four walls and point out the problems of preserving the building and the paintings.
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.
THREATS AND OPPORTUNITIES: PRESERVING ETHIOPIAN WALL PAINTINGS IN THE CONTEXT OF GLOBALIZATION [Abstract ID: 0203-05]
Ethiopia’s extraordinary ecclesiastical wall painting tradition is both an expression of its own unique history and culture, and a testament to its openness to foreign cultural influences, introduced through its trading links with the Middle East, Europe, and Asia. Ethiopian Christian identity has deep roots, and the Orthodox Tewahedo church has been responsible both for fostering Ethiopian religious expression through art, and for continuing the ancient practices and traditions from which it springs. While this has protected Ethiopia’s ecclesiastical art in a state of almost unparalleled authenticity, it has also been tolerant of neglect, insensitive development, damage, and even destruction. As globalization makes increasing inroads into all aspects of life in Ethiopia, traditional safeguards for the protection of cultural heritage are being eroded. Some effects are subtle but pervasive, involving shifting values and aesthetics in response to media exposure, while others have huge environmental and economic repercussions. The impact of climate change, infrastructural developments, and tourism are particularly keenly felt In Ethiopia’s rural communities, where deforestation, diminishing rainfall and dwindling crop yields are forcing changes in traditional lifestyles. Well-managed, tourism can offer an economic lifeline through the promotion of Ethiopian art and culture, but without regulation it can increase social and economic division, environmental depletion, and encourage cultural exploitation. This paper provides an overview of Ethiopia’s rich wall painting heritage and presents a summary of the findings of the first major wide-ranging technical study of Tigray’s wall paintings, undertaken in 2013 by the Ethiopian Heritage fund in collaboration with the Tigray Culture and Tourism Bureau. Finally, the preservation challenges facing this unique wall painting heritage are outlined within the context of globalization and prevailing attitudes within state, church, and local communities.
UNDERSTANDING IMAGES OF GIGAR IN ETHIOPIAN CHURCH MURALS [Abstract ID: 0203-02]
In many Ethiopian church murals we get scenes depicting a man named Gigar. According to the Ethiopian Orthodox church literature, Gigar is credited for protecting the Holy Family against King Herod’s persecution during the family’s lesser known flight to Lebanon before the well known flight into Egypt. In the murals, Gigar is often depicted as he protects the Holy Family and gets tortured by Herod. Of eye-catching scenes, one illustrates a string with which Gigar was being tortured turning into a snake and strangling Herod. Unusual to a church painting, Gigar is also portrayed slapping Herod. This paper takes into account paintings from four churches: the 18th century Narga Sillasse at Lake Tana, the 19th century Debre Birhan Sillasse at Gondar, Abrha we Asbha in Tigrai and Ura Kidane Mihret at Lake Tana. Images involving Gigar from these churches will be described based on relevant literature of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and photographs of the murals taken over the last decade. Literature of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church about Gigar matches a lot with the scenes in the four churches proving that Ethiopian church artists depicted the scenes based on solid textual basis. A Geez text edited and published by Lanfranco Ricci in 1950 with the title “La Leggenda della Vergine al Libano e del Santo Gigar,” contains stories which match with all of the scenes in the four churches suggesting that this or a related text could be one of the literature served as a textual basis for the mural artists.