Icons from Ethiopia
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The Trinity

The Trinity Icon


Stuart Munro-Hay writes in Ethiopia the unknown Land, A Cultural and Historical Guide, page 59:


A theme often occupying an important place un manuscripts or wallpaintings- over the sanctuary door is the Trinity represented as three equal beings, generally three old men. This style of representation for the Trinity was forbidden in Europe after the prohibition of Benedict XIV in a Constitution of October ., 1745, but it is still current in Ethiopia. It seems, that it was not known in Ethiopian art until after the arrival at the country around 1480 of an Italian artist, Nicolo Brancaleone of Venice. He has left a few pictures which can still be identified as his work. The Trinity in this form is described very clearly in 1521, in the Carta das Novas, the record of the arrival of the Portuguese embassy, at the monastery of Debra Bizen in Eritrea:


A square wooden picture, which had three figures all one measure of equality and age, as they are ab eterno. And in each of the corners, to wit, in the bottom right-hand one, was a lion, and above, an eagle, and in the other, an ox, and above, the figure of a man, whence he knew it was the Trinity, and the four Evangelists who affirmed it, for Ezekiel saw them in those shapes, as he says in the first chapter, and likewise Saint John in the fourth chapter of the Apocalypse.