What happens to art when two distinct forms of Christianity meet? This paper considers the relationship between Ethiopian Orthodox and Roman Catholic art during the Jesuit Ethiopian mission (1557-1632). Case studies of Marian and Christological imagery demonstrate the era’s two-way cultural exchange.
Born of the Counter-Reformation, Jesuit art guided religious instruction in its missions. In Ethiopia, where the targets of conversion had been Christian since the early fourth century, art further served as a visual common ground in an otherwise bitter religious dispute. Employing theoretical and iconographical approaches, this paper considers how the Jesuits promoted art that built upon Orthodox Christian beliefs and aesthetics, while reflecting their own Tridentine theology. It contrasts Jesuit image theory—in which pathos-inducing images were a conduit to inner religious experience—with Orthodox conceptions of art as a medium for direct communication with holy figures (the Jesuit imago vs. the Orthodox śeʿel). Ultimately, it demonstrates how the foreign and local blended to form the unique visual culture of Ethiopian Catholicism.
Finally, the paper suggests why selected Catholic artistic models were retained, rejected, or transformed in Gondärine-era (17th-18th century) Ethiopian Orthodox art following the Jesuit expulsion.
Kristen Windmuller-Luna, PhD
Princeton University Art Museum, USA