Ethiopian icon with King Lalibela and His Wife

Type: Icons
Date: ca. 1500
Location or Findspot (Modern-Day Country): Ethiopia
Medium: Tempera, Wood
Dimensions: 11.6 × 18.5 × 0.6 cm (open)
Description: King Lalibela ruled Ethiopia from 1162 to 1221, and the eleven monolithic churches carved out of the rock at Lalibela, in the northern Ethiopian highlands, are traditionally associated with his patronage. This important ruler is commemorated with his wife, Mäsqäl Kǝbra, in a small double-sided diptych icon painted around 1500, some three centuries after Lalibäla's death. The royal couple here face the equestrian Saint Mercurius; on the back are Saints Joachim and Anne, the parents of the Virgin Mary.

Icons became an integral part of Ethiopian Orthodox veneration in the fifteenth century, when Emperor Zärʾa Yaʿǝqob (r. 1434–68) promoted the cult of Mary and mandated that Ethiopian Christians must venerate icons with her image. Byzantine icons had reached Ethiopia before that time, but only in the fifteenth century were single-panel, diptych, and triptych icons produced in Ethiopia by local and Italian artists. The small size of this icon encouraged handling by its owner and thus intimate connection to the saints and revered historical figures depicted on all sides.
Relevant Textbook Chapter(s): 11
Image Credits: Linda Safran

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Double-sided Ethiopian icon with Lalibela and Mäsqäl Kǝbra