Manuscripts in Gǝʿǝz from Gunda Gunde (ጉንደ፡ጉንዴ) in the Tigray region of Ethiopia were photographed in 2006* and they are available for study on-site at HMML or for copies to be ordered. Unlike the lion’s share of HMML’s Ethiopian collection, which is on bitonal microfilm, the copies of Gunda Gunde manuscripts were born digital, like the rest of the collections photographed post-2003 by HMML. While full color obviously makes everything for manuscript study better (paleography, codicology), any artwork that manuscripts may have is rendered especially more strikingly than in microfilm. I am the furthest thing from an art historian, but I would nevertheless like to share a few images from a 15th/16th century Gospel book from Gunda Gunde (no. 440/C₃-IV-5). (By all means, any comments on these images from art historians or artistically interested codicologists are welcome!)
First, here are some of the Eusebian canons, similar in design to those of other language traditions.
The interlocking strands of color are worth a close-up.
Now here is Matthew the evangelist. Similar paintings precede the other three Gospels. Note his scribal instruments.
Finally from this manuscript, here are the apostles Matthias and Thomas, then Paul and James, the brother of Jesus, and on the next page, as it says, “Image[s] of our holy prophet fathers” (śǝʿlä abäwinä qǝddusan näbiyyat) Enoch “the learned” (or “scribe,” ṣäḥafi), Isaac, Abraham, and Jacob, with the four on the bottom being Job “the righteous” (ṣadǝq), Moses “the archprophet” (liqä näbiyyat), Aaron “the priest” (kahǝn; note the censer), and Joshua “the chief” (sǝfun).
I close with a fine description of the Gunda Gunde style of manuscript painting: “It introduced squat figures with extremely simplified bodies hidden under stylised garments in bright colours covered by geometrical, patchwork pattern. Their pear-formed heads with concave faces have characteristic elongated eyes, upward triangular eyebrows and small mouths.” (E. Balicka-Witakowska in Enc. Aeth. 2, 920).
In the next post I hope to show and discuss another decorated Ethiopian manuscript (one with a little more text) from a different monastery. For now, feast your mind on these bright juxtaposed colors!
Beylot, Robert, and Ewa Balicka-Witakowska. “Gundä Gunde.” In Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, vol. 2. Wiesbaden, 2005. 917-921.
Marx, Annegret, Ewa Balicka-Witakowska, Marilyn E. Heldman. “Painting.” In Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, vol. 4. Wiesbaden, 2010. 90-101.
*The project was handled by Michael Gervers and Ewa Balicka-Witakowska. Thanks to Wayne Torborg, HMML’s digital director, for touching up these photos for me.