The Manuscripts and Archives Research Library houses a small collection of manuscripts and book satchels originating from Ethiopia. This manuscript, TCD MS 1497, is a book of devotions to the Virgin Mary and is currently on view as part of the From Darkness to Light exhibition accompanying the Book of Kells in the Old Library.
Ethiopia’s adoption of Christianity in the fourth century linked it culturally with the Byzantine world and the Eastern Mediterranean, and it absorbed artistic influences from Byzantine, Coptic and African traditions. However, once established, its religious texts and artistic precepts remained fixed, making dating of manuscripts very difficult. The cult of the Virgin Mary became especially important in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Ethiopia sparking an appetite for devotional works such as this one. Illustrations in the manuscripts are vibrant and exuberant and often make use of blocks of juxtaposing colours.
The Virgin and Child iconography displayed on folio 39 is close to its counterpart in the Book of Kells: the Virgin has a ‘jewel’ on her shoulder and a cross on her headcloth. She is accompanied by two angels, possibly archangels.