The Gospels of Stephen and Abakerazun: A Beautiful Ethiopic Manuscript

Ethiopic manuscripts startle by their composition and color; the calligraphy of the literary and ecclesiastical language, called Ge'ez, is powerful and puzzling to the eye. It is derived from South Semitic script, and some believe that it was the creation of a single man. The miniatures in this ravishing manuscript from the Gundé Gundié monastery are characterized by strong drawings that resemble stained-glass windows, with red and yellow predominating in the range of colors. In the masterfully stylized rendering of the Madonna and Child on the right, the figures are rhythmically adapted to geometric rules and each element in the two-dimensional composition forms a striking decorative pattern. The portrait to the left of the seated Evangelist is probably Matthew, similarly treated.

Gadla Estifanos e Abakerazun [The Gospels of Stephen and Abakerazun]. Manuscript on vellum; in Ge'ez. Tigre, Ethiopia, 15th century. Illuminated at the monastery of Gundé Gundié.
The New York Public Library, Spencer Collection.

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