In a new exhibit, 60 rare icons and artifacts at the Museum of Russian Icons reveal a unique fusion of Christian traditions with Ethiopian culture.

By Chris Bergeron, Daily News Staff |

CLINTON, Mas – Four centuries after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, Ethiopian King Ezana embraced Christianity in the kingdom of Aksum, beginning the diffusion of the new religion’s beliefs and art throughout the Horn of Africa. For much of the following 1,600 years, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church – known as Tewahdo – has kept that faith alive throughout the introduction of Islam and the impact of imperialism, poverty and revolution on the beleaguered nation.

More than 60 rare icons and artifacts, mostly loaned from a German collector, reveal that unique fusion of Christian traditions with Ethiopian culture at the Museum of Russian Icons.

St. George and the dragon, circa 16th century Contributed Photo/Museum of Russian Icons

St. George and the dragon, circa 16th century Contributed Photo/Museum of Russian Icons

Curated by noted German art historian Marc Loerke and organized by museum registrar Laura Garrity-Arquitt, “The Vibrant Art and Storied History of Ethiopian Icons,’’ will transport visitors into ancient times and remote places.

In one of the Clinton’s museum’s farthest-reaching shows, visitors will see two- and three-panel icons representing saints and sacred stories, intricately-designed brass crosses and gorgeous illuminated manuscripts that present ancient Christian stories for African eyes.

Along the way, they’ll meet King Solomon, the Queen of Sheba and perhaps discover the whereabouts of the fabled lost Ark of the Covenant that sent Indiana Jones on his cinematic adventures.

While many prior exhibits in the one-of-a-kind museum featured work once displayed in monasteries and churches across Russia, this show presents rare Ethiopian versions of an art form that flourished in a warmer climate.

Africa’s largest landlocked and second most populous nation, it is a country of remarkably diverse cultures and the place where some of the oldest evidence for modern humans has been found.

Garrity-Arquitt recommended visitors look for external differences between the Ethiopian icons and artifacts on display and the mostly Russian objects shown throughout the museum.

While two diptychs representing the crucifixion and Saint George with Mary date to the 15th century, most objects in the show range from the 15th to 19th centuries.

She observed that Ethiopian icon artists often portrayed their subjects in a graphically bold manner with large, almond-shaped eyes.

And Garrity-Arquitt pointed out several striking manuscripts and prayer scrolls, also called “magic scrolls,’’ written in an ancient Ethiopian language called Ge’ez, that was once the official language of the kingdom of Aksum but now is used primarily for liturgical purposes.

Loerke, who manages the Thomas Monius Ikonengalerie in Germany, cited specific characteristics of Ethiopian icon painting that differentiate them from their more familiar Russian counterparts.

While Russian icons often feature images of St. George slaying a satanic dragon or the Prophet Isaiah ascending to heaven, Ethiopian icons represent stories familiar to locals including tales of King Solomon, the Queen of Sheba and her son Menelik, who was instrumental in adopting Judaism into Ethiopia.

Source: HW Chronicle

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