The Miracles of Mary (Te'amire Maryam)

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Gonder, Ethiopia

The Miracles of Mary (Te'amire Maryam), Late 17th century, reign of Yohannes (1667–82) or Iyyasu I (1682–1706)

Parchment, ink, tempera, wood, leather, cotton, and string
36.8 x 31.8 x 9.5 cm (14 1/2 x 12 1/2 x 3 3/4 in.)
Ada Turnbull Hertle and Marian and Samuel Klasstorner endowments, 2002.4

The Story of the Clubfooted Man is one of 72 hand-painted illustrations from a lavish 158-page bound manuscript devoted to the miracles of Mary. It was created in the late 17th century in Gonder, the newly established capital of Christian Ethiopia's Solomonic kings. The manuscript is part of a closely related group of manuscripts that were created during a period of great artistic innovation in Christian Ethiopia, when manuscript illuminators were exploring new approaches to their art including the introduction of narrative illustrations. It is likely that this book was commissioned by a wealthy individual as a high-status guide for family devotion.

— Descriptive text

The main theme of the manuscript is the Miracles of Mary, a group of stories about the Virgin that originated in France in the twelfth century and arrived in Ethiopia via Spain, Palestine, and Egypt in the fourteenth century. In the mid-fifteenth century Mary’s significance in Christian Ethiopia intensified, and her worship was integrated into church ritual through daily prayer, feast days, and religious texts. Thereafter, the Miracles of Mary became one of the most popular themes for religious books.

The masterful illustrations of this manuscript include scenes from the Life of the Virgin, thirty-two Miracles of Mary, scenes from the Passion of Christ, and other events involving saints and martyrs. They are painted in the first Gonderine style, which is distinguished by bold outlines, schematic shading, and a rich but restricted palette against unelaborated backgrounds.

—Revised from, Kathleen Bickford Berzock, “The Miracles of Mary (Te’amire Maryam), Notable Acquisitions at the Art Institute of Chicago, Museum Studies 29, no. 2 (2003), pp. 12-13; 94.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

London, Sam Fogg Rare Books and Manuscripts, Ethiopian Art, Sept. 12–Oct. 9, 2001, cat. 24.

New York, N.Y., The Museum for African Art, Art That Heals: The Image as Medicine in Ethiopia, Feb. 7–Aug. 31, 1997, pp. 79 (ill.).

Publication History

Kathleen Bickford Berzock, The Miracles of Mary: A Seventeenth-Century Ethiopian Manuscript (Art Institute of Chicago, 2002).

Kathleen Bickford Berzock, "The Miracles of Mary (Te'amire Maryam)," Notable Acquisitions at the Art Institute of Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, vol.29, no. 2 (2002), pp. 12-13 (ill.).

Kathleen Bickford Berzock, “Original Branna, Precous 17th Century Illuminated Manuscripts Tell of Saints and Miracles,” Branna, vol. 1, issue 2 (Winter 2002), pp. 78-79 (ill.).

Mary Gerhart and Fabian E. Udoh, eds. The Christianity Reader (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007), cover (ill.).

Ownership History

Ginette Giordana (died 2013), Nimes, France, about 1980; sold to Sam Fogg, Sam Fogg Rare Books and Manuscripts, London, 1990; sold to the Art Institute, 2002.