Ethiopian Kingdom

Ancient Ethiopia was an African kingdom that emerged after the fall of Axum. It is the oldest independent country in Africa and can be traced back to about 400,000 years ago. Most of its history is lost but from what people discovered it was the highest civilization ever discovered by the Africans.
The Blue Nile, one of the major river in Africa, and many other small rivers flowed through Ethiopia. It's on a massive plateau of fertile highlands surrounded by desert. Inheriting this geographic advantage from Axum, Ethiopians continued to develop agriculture. They also traded with Egypt by waterway. Over times its territory spread to both savanna and desert.

Unlike many other African kingdoms, Ethiopia considered itself a Christian outpost. The main Christian branch in this kingdom was Coptic Christianity. People created artistic works such as the painting of Saint George or The Last Supper, and made many pilgrimages to Jerusalem, the Holy Land. Also, to show their devotion and faith to God, they carved churches out of the mountains, which required money, workers, skills and leadership. Besides, they adapted East African music and dance to serve in the churches. However, not every Ethiopian was Christian. Through international trade and marriages, some of them became Muslims or Jewish.

This painting, so-called a triptych (a picture being carved or painted on three panels), was made of distemper and gesso on wood. It proves that during that era, Ethiopia's art was  quite different from the other African societies. This kingdom was the only society whose major religion was Christian, so the content and the messages their art works sent differed. Besides, artistic skills of Ethiopia must have been highly developed so that they could make this wooden triptych with gesso and distemper, not simply paints and paper like the others.

In the center of this piece of art are the Virgin Mary and Jesus flanked by two angels.  The other four men are Saint Mercurius, Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel and Saint George, the patron of Ethiopia. This triptych showed Ethiopians' great honor of Mary and some other major saints according to their faith.

By Rachel Sheng and Anh Luu

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