Date: late 17th century
Geography: Ethiopia, North of Gojjam province
Culture: Amhara peoples
Medium: Wood, tempera, cord
Dimensions: H. 22 1/16 x W. 27 9/16 in. (56 x 70 cm)
Credit Line: Louis V. Bell Fund, 2006
Accession Number: 2006.98
This highly original icon is a tribute to the revered Ethiopian visionary Ewost'atéwos, who was born about 1273. The House of Ewost'atéwos is one of the two major monastic orders of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Ethiopia's earliest state adopted Christianity as its official religion in the fourth century. During the next two centuries, foreign missionaries disseminated Christianity beyond Ethiopia's elite circles and founded monastic centers in the remote northern regions of Ethiopia and Eritrea. The abbots of those centers became the chief figures in the church's local hierarchy. In the fourteenth century, Saint Ewost'atéwos founded several more monasteries in northern Ethiopia before violent doctrinal disputes led to his exile to Egypt and then Armenia, where he died.
The eight acolytes surrounding Ewost'atéwos are depicted to underscore their devotion and allegiance. Only the vibrant, swirling patterns of their colorful robes animate and distinguish the otherwise identical figures. The painting's considerable scale suggests that it was the property of a monastery, whose historical origins and ties to neighboring communities it recorded. According to Jacques Mercier, an authority on Ethiopian culture, this is the only known icon from northern Ethiopia dedicated to a monastic genealogy.