Ethiopia Medieval Arts
East African state bordering E with Djibouti and Somalia, S with Kenya, W with Sudan and N with Eritrea, independent since 1993. The current political-administrative entity is the result of the progressive expansion of a Christian state from the northern regions of the Tigrinya plateau (Tigrè and Eritrea) towards the south, by Semitic-speaking populations (Tigrini and Amhara). This process began with the emergence of a South Arabian state (kingdom of Daamat) in western Tigray and central Eritrea around the middle of the first millennium BC and was accentuated with the development of the kingdom of Aksum, whose territory it extended over the entire Tigrinya plateau in the first millennium after Christ. In the first half of the second millennium the center of the state moved to the South, in the Uollo, during the reign of the Zāguē dynasty (ca. 1150-1270) and later in Northern Scioa with the advent of the more ancient Solomonid kingdom (ca. 1270-1527). was the introduction of Christianity as the official religion of the kingdom of Aksum in the early 4th century. This gave rise to the development of the Christian Ethiopian-Semitic civilization, which still constitutes one of the major cultural components of the region. The name of Ethiopia has very ancient origins and was already used by classical authors, since the time of Homer (Il., I, v. 423; XXIII, v. 206; Od., I, v. 22; IV, v. 84; V, vv. 282, 287), to indicate the regions to the South of Egypt inhabited by dark-skinned people. Initially, however, it was indicated above all Nubia, that is the stretch of the Nile valley to the South of the Aswan cataract. This name was adopted to indicate the modern nation only after the Second World War. The traditional name of the northern and central highlands inhabited by the Tigrinians and Amhara peoples was Abyssinia, derived from that of the Ḥabashāt, a tribe of possible South Arab origin that gave birth to the kingdom of Aksum. it has been strongly influenced by its geographical position at the intersection of Africa and Asia and between the Mediterranean and the Indian oceans. This has favored the penetration on the Ethiopian-Somali highlands of different cultural influences, coming from time to time from the Nile valley, southern Arabia, the Near and Middle East, the Mediterranean and East Africa. These influences have grafted onto local traditions that have constantly maintained their vitality, generating cultures that are both composite and original at the same time. In particular, the inclusion since very ancient times of the Tigrinya plateau in the commercial circuit that connected the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean and – after the introduction of Christianity – the link between the Ethiopian Church and the patriarchate of Alexandria favored contacts with the Mediterranean regions, to the point that in many respects the Christian Ethiopian-Semitic civilization can be considered the extreme southern edge of the Mediterranean. 8th-9th and the arrival of the first Portuguese embassy to the court of King Lebna Dengel in 1520. This is a largely obscure period due to the substantial lack of sources prior to the 14th century. Archaeological documentation is also lacking, as up to now the investigations have focused mainly on the most ancient remains, from the Preaksumite and Aksumite age (first millennium BC first millennium AD).. 9 °, Ibn Ḥawqal in the 10th century; Vantini, 1975) and sporadic news in the history of the patriarchs of Alexandria, compiled around the year 1000 by the bishop Severus of Ashmūnayn, the events of this period are known only from traditional Ethiopian sources: the lives of the saints and, from the century. 14th, the chronicles of the first kings of the Solomonid dynasty. In these centuries the Ethiopian plateau was effectively isolated from the Mediterranean world, even if news of a southern Christian kingdom, surrounded by Muslims, reached the West, giving rise to the stories about the fabulous priest Gianni of the Indies. Based on the available data, the story of Ethiopia Medieval can be divided into three phases: the postaksumita period (8th / 9th-12th centuries), the zāguē period (ca. 1150-1270) and the initial Solomonid period (ca. 1270-1527). it is practically unknown. Al-Ya῾qūbī attests that at the end of the century. 9 ° a Christian kingdom was located on the Tigrinya plateau with its capital at Ku῾bar, a site that has not yet been identified (Vantini, 1975). The extent of this kingdom is unknown and it is not excluded that it could correspond to that of Aksum in the final phase of its history. 12th-13th the political center shifted towards the S and a new kingdom emerged in Uollo under the Zāguē dynasty of Cushite origin.
The capital was located in Roḥa, in Lasta (Uollo). In this period the Christian kingdom seems to have extended along the eastern side of the Ethiopian plateau from central Eritrea to north-central Scioa. 13 ° the zāguē kings were replaced by Amhara rulers, originally from the northern Scioa, who founded the Solomonid dynasty. In the secc. 14 ° -15 ° the Solomonid kingdom included the whole plateau, from northern Eritrea to the Ethiopia Central and southern Italy. By medieval Ethiopian art we mean the monumental and artistic production of the Ethiopian-Semitic Christian populations between the 8th-9th and 15th centuries. This production is attested above all by rock churches, which testify to the progressive expansion of Christianity from Tigrè to Scioa. There are very few remains of medieval buildings. According to tradition, this would be due to the destruction carried out at the beginning of the century. 16th by Muslim invaders from Ethiopia eastern under the leadership of Aḥmed ibn Ibrāhim, known as il Gragn (‘the Left-handed’). 10 ° -11 ° and 15 ° -16 °, have been reported on the Tigrinya plateau and in the Lasta, in Asmara, Dera, Aramo, Baraknaha, Ham (Dèbra Libanòs), Guna Guniè, Gunda Gundiè, Dèbra Dammò, Zarema, Yeha, Makina Ledata Maryam and Makina Madhanè ‘Alam, Imrehanna Krestos, Jammadu, Argobo Tcherqos. Of these, the best known is the church of Abuna Argawi in Dèbra Dammò, one of the very few almost completely preserved early medieval buildings.Unfortunately only a small number of these churches have been visited and also described inside. Generally they have a basilica-type plant with a vestibule, three naves and sanctuary with rectangular apse. The entrance to the sanctuary is often preceded by a triumphal arch, while the apse is always covered by a vault built with wooden armor. The central nave is usually higher than the lateral ones and is separated from these by wooden pillars with rounded corners which supported the shelves on which the arches rested. Often along the aisles, between the ridge of the arches and the ceiling, a frieze of square ‘monkey-headed’ metopes of sure Aksumite tradition develops. Only the churches of Jammadu and Zarema differ from the general model; the latter has a basilica plan with three naves with a semicircular apse, flanked by two rooms and with two projecting external bodies at the height of the third bay. The there was originally a counter-apse on the western side. The church of Jammadu has a square plan with three naves, with a rectangular atrium and apse placed on the extension of the central nave and protruding from the body of the building.
The rock churches are the most characteristic and spectacular expression of medieval Ethiopian architecture and were reported in numerous locations in Ethiopia, from Eritrea al-Bale and al-Caffa. The oldest ones seem to be concentrated in the Tigrè, especially in the Gheraltà massif and in the Lasta, in Lalibela. The most impressive complex is located in Lalibela, near Roḥa, the ancient capital of the Zāguē kings. Here twelve churches and chapels are visible, forming two groups separated by a stream; the first group includes the churches of Beta Madhanè ῾Alam, Beta Masal, Beta Maryam, Beta Dabra Sina, Beta Golgotha and the Trinity chapel (Sellase). The second group includes the churches of Beta Amanuel, Beta Abba Libanòs, Beta Marcorewos, Beta Gabra el Rufa el and Beta Lehem. To these must be added Beta Giyorgis, which remains separate from the others. Taken together, the rock churches can be divided into four main types: underground churches, entirely dug into the rocky walls of a mountain; monolithic churches, shaped in a single rocky block isolated from the rest of the mountain by deep trenches and sculpted internally and externally in order to faithfully reproduce all the structures and decorations of a church; semimonolithic churches, partly shaped in a block of rock, like the previous ones, and partly carved into the wall; semi-rupestrian churches, partly built in masonry and partly excavated in the rocky wall. Mostly excavated in rocky walls of difficult access, the rock churches generally reproduce, adapting it to the needs of individual cases, the architecture of buildings with a basilica plan, with a flanked atrium with two rooms, vestibule, hall with three naves and sanctuary with rectangular or round apse and two side rooms. Only the monolithic church of Beta Madhanè ῾Alam (Savior of the World) in Lalibela has a hall with five naves and most likely reproduces the aksumita one of Maryam Sion in Aksum, of which today only a few traces of the foundations remain. the small group of the so-called churches downstream of the Tigrè, dug out of rocky hillocks placed in the center of flat areas, departs. The hypogea of Degum, Hauzien and Berakit in fact present a first vestibule, wider than deep, which led to a rectangular room with pillars set against the walls, followed by a third room – rectangular in Degum, semicircular in Berakit – which gave access to two or more rooms lateral; the entrance to these monuments was disguised by a semi-rupestrian atrium. The semimonoliths of Abreha and Asbeha and of Tcherqos Weqro instead have a Greek cross plan inscribed in a square. Finally, the monolithic church of Beta Giyorgis in Lalibela has a cruciform plan. The rock churches reproduce all the structures of those in masonry; the pillars are generally square or cruciform, with cubic or cantilever capitals. The doors reproduce the ‘monkey-headed’ ones of the Aksumite age; the windows, sometimes too they have a typical ‘monkey-headed’ shape and feature elaborate barriers with crosses, swastikas, round or flame arches on a shelf. The ceilings are coffered with crossed squares. The friezes along the naves are in square metopes with monkey heads. For Ethiopia 2015, please check dentistrymyth.com.
The dating of the medieval Ethiopian churches is uncertain, however local traditions and the stylistic characteristics of the individual monuments allow us to roughly trace their chronological sequence., attribute the foundation of these churches to kings and saints who lived between the century. 6th and 15th, especially to the kings of the zāguē dynasty. However, it should be noted that the churches attributed to the most ancient characters have characteristics of direct Aksumite derivation and could therefore actually date back to an earlier period. In particular, traditions agree in attributing the complex of rock churches of Lalibela to the zāguē kings.On the basis of stylistic criteria it is possible to distinguish three main groups of masonry churches: those with evident structural and decorative elements of direct aksumita derivation, which could date back to the secc. 8th-11th (Asmara, Dera, Ham, Guna Guniè, Dèbra Dammò, Zarema); those in which the aksumite elements are reduced to simple ornamental motifs and which have similarities with the rock ones of Lalibela, presumably dating back to the 13th century. 12th-13th (Aramo, Imrehanna Krestos, Makina Madhanè ῾Alam); those devoid of evident aksumiti elements and datable to the 14th century. 14 ° -16 ° (Yeha, Gunda Gundiè, Jammadu). In turn the rock churches were divided by Buxton (1970) into five groups: archaic basilicas, characterized by numerous elements of the aksumita type, dated to the 13th century. 10 ° -11 °; churches with a cruciform plan inscribed in a square, dating back to the 13th century. 11 ° -12 °; classical basilicas, including some rock churches of Lalibela, dating back to the 13th century. 12 ° -13 °; Archaic Tigrinya basilicas, datable to the 10th century 13 ° -14 °; Late Tigrinya basilicas, dating from the 14th and 15th centuries. The last two groups would include most of the rock churches reported in Tigrè; they would be characterized by the progressive drying up of the Aksumite architectural tradition and by an increasing number of times. Few are the surviving testimonies of medieval figurative art. Apparently the oldest documents are some wooden panels that decorated the coffered ceiling of the old church of Asmara, now destroyed, and of the church of Dèbra Dammò, dating back to the 13th century. 8 ° -11 °; the decorative motifs include geometric figures, crosses, animal figures and human figures (a saint knight) and show clear Coptic and Syriac-Byzantine influences. Some wall paintings and manuscripts prior to the 14th century should also be mentioned. The most ancient paintings among those known up to now adorn two evangeliari of the monastery of Abba Garima, datable to the secc. 10 ° -12 °; more numerous are the figurative testimonies referable to the 14th-15th century.In general, Ethiopian figurative art is always of a religious nature, dominated by hieratic fixity and simplicity of themes. It should be noted the complete absence of sculptures in the round, according to the Eastern Christian tradition to which the Ethiopian Orthodox Church belongs; even the very rare representations of saints in bas-relief, reported in Lalibela, just detach themselves from the rock wall and most likely were originally painted. Overall, medieval Ethiopian painting is clearly linked to the Byzantine one, above all Syriac and partly Nubian, both for the figurative style and for the themes dealt with. However, it has original characteristics that clearly distinguish it from that of the other regions of the Christian East, recognizable in the ethnic characteristics of the faces, in the long tapered hands and in the large sunken eyes. The latter in particular constitute a typical element of all Ethiopian art from its origins to the present day and already appear on statues of the Preaksumite period (about the middle of the first millennium BC).It is not excluded that, like architecture, medieval painting can be linked to models introduced in the Aksumite age: it is in fact known from Arab sources that in the century 7 ° the church of Maryam Sion in Aksum was decorated with frescoes of which no trace remains.