Triptych Icon


Late 17th century


Central Ethiopia
Eastern and Southern Africa

About this artwork

In the highlands of Ethiopia, Orthodox Christianity stretches in an unbroken line of practice from the fourth century to the present day. Although painted icons are known from the late fourteenth century, demand for them increased greatly in the mid-fifteenth century, when the worship of the Virgin Mary was formalized in the Ethiopian Orthodox liturgy. Considered sacred, icons were venerated in weekly services and on feast days.

The central image of this finely rendered triptych presents Mary with the young Jesus on her lap. She grasps a handkerchief in her left hand, while her son blesses her with his right hand and holds a book in his left. This depiction derives from a painting long held in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. The image was reproduced and disseminated by missionaries beginning in the early seventeenth century. Upon its arrival in Ethiopia by the mid-seventeenth century, it revolutionized the representation of the Virgin and Child. Here Christ is portrayed wearing a checkered robe and a beautifully detailed cowrie-shell necklace. The two sit enthroned on an Ethiopian-style bed, flanked by the archangels Gabriel and Michael. This image is surrounded by secondary themes, including the Crucifixion at right and the Ascension and Saint George slaying the dragon at left.

Currently Off View

Arts of Africa


Triptych Icon


Lasta region




Tempera on linen, mounted on wood and bound with cord


67 × 74 cm (26 3/8 × 29 1/8 in.)

Credit Line

Director's Fund

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

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