God the Father with Donor from the Homiliary of the Archangel Michael

Unknown Ethiopian artist

God the Father with Donor from the Homiliary of the Archangel Michael, After 1730, Illumination on parchment, Each folio: 285 x 230 mm, The Church of the Archangelo Mikael, Ankobarr, EMML no.2373, fols 3v–4r, Photo: © 1993 Malcolm Varon, New York City

Close Close
Zoom in Zoom in
Zoom out Zoom out
Reset image Reset image

A Dramatic Reversal

Commentary by

The Homiliary of the Archangel Michael contains a series of illuminations dedicated to honouring the Archangel Michael in Ethiopia’s rich Christian tradition. A depiction of God dominates the composition of folio 3v, where he is adorned with a magnificent red robe and distinguished from the other figures by rays of light emanating from his head. Unlike the angelic and human figures depicted here, the artist portrays the deity with white hair, possibly influenced by Daniel 7:9, ‘And the hair of his head [was] like pure wool’.

The heads of four living creatures surround the octagonally-framed image of God: a bird, an ox, a lion, and a winged figure (the archangel Michael, to whom the homiliary is dedicated). Together these four images (reading the face of Michael as the face of a man) recall the living creatures surrounding God’s throne in Ezekiel 1:10 and Revelation 4:7. Positioned at the bottom of the illumination we find a figure representing the homiliary’s patron, in all likelihood a ruler of some description, Fasiladis. Although he still carries his sceptre, he lies prostrate, horizontal, before the throne and the presence of God. His gaze points towards the viewer, so as to avoid looking directly at the theophany above.

Job’s demeanour and attitude in chapter 38 results from a dramatic reversal. Up until this point in the narrative, he remains confident in his own righteousness and extremely vocal in refuting the arguments and accusations of his three companions. He envisaged approaching God, ‘like a prince’ (31:37) when they met face-to-face, so he could exonerate his name.

In chapter 38, however, Job’s demeanour transforms into one very like that of the donor depicted in the homiliary. The divine presence reduces Job to silence. With his mouth closed, he can only lie prostrate before Almighty God. Just as God’s depiction dominates the homiliary’s frame, so too God’s words—his relentless interrogation and questioning of Job, beginning in chapter 38—dominate the narrative from this point onwards in the book.

 

References

Heldman, M. 1993. ‘The Late Solomonic Period: 1540–1769’, in African Zion: The Sacred Art of Ethiopia, ed. by R. Grierson (New Haven: Yale University Press), pp. 253–54


Read next commentary