Sep 3 2011: Ethiopian Madonna and Child Painting on Vellum (Date Unknown)

Rummaging in a cardboard box at the Cattle Market in Nottingham in this morning’s unexpected sunshine, I pulled out a small Woolworth style wooden photo-frame with this image inside it – a mismatch of raw, folk-art painting and flimsily over-glossed container that was very striking.  Since the front was glazed it wasn’t possible to look at the thing too closely there and then, so I bought it and – if I assumed anything at all – assumed that once it came out of the frame it would reveal itself to be a fairly standard tourist item, painted on cardboard or paper.

In fact, as the scan below shows, it’s painted on a rough animal skin vellum, so whether this suggests the painting is older than it first appeared, or whether this kind of painting on vellum is standard practice in Ethiopia today when manufacturing images for tourists, I don’t know. Either way, it’s a piece that has had a lot of work and skill expended on its making and the restricted palette used – red, green and yellow, set against the blue of the Virgin’s dress, with black outlines – creates an immediately gratifying tonal balance. A nice thing, and while a long way from the finest Ethiopian painting has to offer* it’s an image that works well despite the rough edges in its execution.

*Some further examples of Ethiopian vellum painting can be viewed here.

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