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Gospel Book
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Unknown
Ethiopian, about 1504 - 1505
Tempera on parchment
13 9/16 x 10 1/4 in.
MS. 102

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This Gospel book comes from the Christian kingdom of Ethiopia and is illuminated in the distinctive and profoundly expressive style that characterizes Ethiopian painting. Ethiopia was one of the earliest centers of Christianity. Over the course of the Middle Ages, this culture produced icons, processional crosses, and illuminated manuscripts that formed an integral part of its religious services. The manuscript is written in Ge'ez, the language of early Christian Ethiopia, which was by the10th and 11th centuries a primarily literary and liturgical language.

Dating between 1504 and 1505, this manuscript begins with an intricately decorated headpiece, called a haräg (from the Ge'ez word for tendril). It continues with a striking image of the Virgin and Child and eight canon table pages. Four evangelist portraits are remarkable for their monumentality and arresting palette of olive, orange, yellow, and white. The uniformly bright hues and rhythmic distribution of circular motifs and interlace create a vibrant, unified design throughout the manuscript.

This striking manuscript is illuminated in the so-called Gunda Gundé style. It takes its name from the location of the Stephanite monastery of Dabra Garzen, which possesses a number of examples of this type. The large, exaggeratedly rounded backs of the evangelists, their almond-shaped eyes and the dotted motif employed in their clothing are hallmarks of the Gunda Gundé style, which is characterized by an extreme stylization of the figures and geometric regularity.

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