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Art Gallery the Eye and the Hand


The paintings on canvas of Abba Antonios church in Gondar in Ethiopia were collected by Marcel Griaule and his team at the Dakar-Djibouti mission in 1932. They probably date from the late eighteenth century and measure (for the pieces installed at the Musée du Quai Branly) about 2.3 meters high. All bear the inventory numbers from 31.74.3584 to 31.74.3630.


The paintings in the church are made Abba Antonios egg on a canvas backing. They are mainly figures of saints, or episodes of Christian history (Old and New Testament apocryphal writings), arranged in superimposed registers.
At the Musée du Quai Branly, the totality of what has been harvested (60 sq.m.) is not exposed. In the room devoted to Ethiopian paintings, on the right shows a St. George, followed by a representation of God overcoming the Covenant of Grace and twelve priests of Heaven, from the west wall of the church. Opposite the entrance, three holy knights recognizable opponents it lands (small naked figures for St. Theodore, a centaur, a lion's body and tail shaped double snake for St. Claude, the emperor Julian the apostolate who tried to restore paganism to holy Mercury) overcome the images of the first Christian martyrs who have proclaimed the Gospel, namely John the Baptist, St. Paul, St. Peter and St. Etienne. Finally on the left wall you can see four of the kings of the Old Testament in the upper register (David, Solomon, Hezekiah and Josiah) and a couple of prophets in the lower register, from the east wall. The assembly shown is relatively sparse. Indeed, he mentions no picture on the wall and the sides are not fully presented.


With the predominance of red, yellow and blue shadows marked by a distinction in shades of red carnations on the clarity, the bottom naked horizon or perspective and decorations very simple, the paintings the church of Abba Antonios are characteristic of the first style gondarien that develops between the years 1560 (when the capital Gondar becomes fixed for the court) and the reign of Yyasu IIER early eighteenth century. This period saw the development of urban and enriching the king, his entourage and notables of Gondar is a commercial hub and a center of political, economic and religious role. Among other things, the architecture is developed and each sovereign will mark his reign by the construction of churches at that time, there are up to thirty religious buildings with richly liturgical objects, vestments and manuscripts (the Abba Antonios there were a hundred books, some of which were illuminated sign suggestive of wealth). According to legend, Abba Antonios was built by King Yohannes (reigned from 1667 to 1682) but no writing at the time, or even later, mention this building. Oral tradition relates that, during a military campaign in the area of Sennar, towards the middle of the Blue Nile, King Yohannes had invoked St. Anthony to chase the rain and cold that decimated his troops. His wish is heightened, he should gain the battle and on the way back he made two steps to Loza and Samuni Barr where he picked up two stones. His soldiers did the same and return to Gondar, St. Anthony told him in a dream place of Gäbäz MedR to build his church. But Yohannes gave the building to a trusted architect who tried to deceive: he gave up the exterior walls in hard but the inside walls of mud "as a vulgar country church." The engineer was severely punished and Yohannes promised to make rebuilding a more beautiful, but he died before Abba Antonios was sacked, this probably explains the surprisingly poor quality of a building supposed to be gas royalty. Thus, although the chronicles of the time did not mention campaign Sennar or construction of a church dedicated to Saint Antonio. ine during the reign of Yohannes, the dating is quite likely to 1670/1690. Two centuries later, another event marks the story of Abba Antonios, always told in oral tradition as a miracle: in 1887, the dervishes of Sudan invaded the region and attempt to burn the building by stacking bales of hay around the walls. However, water seeping from the roof of thatch prevents fire.
The whole church is relatively rare: it knows of only two others in the same period, the church Dabra Sina Gorgora and monastery Qoma Fasiladas. Both are certainly more complete but in Gondar, there remains no set pictorial equivalent of the XVII century. Thanks to its geographical location, Gondar has allowed the use of pigments as import traders from Europe, the Middle East and India came to supply ports of the Red Sea luxury products such as the Ethiopian gold, musk, incense, ivory, slaves and caravans exchanged in Abyssinian highlands. Thus, according Anaïs Wion and Claire Bosc-Tiere, analysis by laser microspectométrie Ramman reveals that the pigments are mostly of foreign origin: orpiment yellow, cobalt blue, orange, red lead, vermilion red ... Only a few colors are locally produced, namely carbon black, green vegetable and white calcium sulfate. We therefore deduced that large sums of money were invested in achieving this together.

When in 1932 Marcel Griaule discovered Abba Antonios, his condition remained unchanged for many years and has even deteriorated by weather. The church was built atop a hill, as often in Ethiopia, walled compound that also contained olive trees, sycamores and ancient junipers that indeed we do not find that in places of worship . The plan is rather simple: the center is the Maqdis a 6m cube. side topped with a cylinder of 2.5 m high room reserved for the clergy, which houses "plate altar consecrated the Tabot, representing the Tables of the Law given to Moses at Sinai by Yahweh." Around a circular space topped by a conical roof met the faithful who can admire the paintings displayed on all four sides of Maqdis, until the base drum. Originally the walls were covered with paintings of 180m ², it remained less than half in 1932.
Instead of painting is very codified. First, they are not routinely accessible to the faithful, but only revealed in times of offices or for large ceremonies.
The lace curtain and the ROC are ritualized addition to the semi darkness "full of solemnity" any occurrence, but instead paints itself also has specific characteristics. The priests and deacons, facing the west wall is called "liturgical front" face the most memorable moments in the life of Christ. These are powerful images reinforcing the symbolic message and emphasizing the dedication of the church of St. Anthony. The upper part is reserved for the image of the celestial world with God the Father flanked by the tetramorph (animal symbols of the four evangelists) and the twenty four elders of the Apocalypse (only twelve are in place at the Musée du Quai Branly ). Below, a new image in the iconography of Mary (the Virgin Mary by the Pact of Mercy with her son) and relatively common devotional images of biblical scenes and saints (Christ's descent defunct crucifixion Virgin and Child, Annunciation ...). Finally in the lower register there are several saints on either side of the door: Saint George slaying the dragon and protector of the Ethiopian church, St. Anthony receiving the monastic attributes (the shoulder and cap), St. Macarius "his spiritual son "and a certain Abba Yohannes, hypothetically founder of the monastery of Dabra Damo at the XIII century. A fifth between St. Antoine and Yohannes remains unidentified.
The north wall is the section reserved for men. Its iconography is intended to exalt the warrior values "bloody evidence in favor of Christ, saints and martyrs riders. All the Saints riders martyrs are represented in a pattern substantially identical and are differentiated by their opponents. In addition to the Saints Theodore, Claude and Mercury mentioned above, added Philothea fighting an idol in the form of a bull and Theodore the Oriental slaying the king of the Persians. Below, arranged in rectangular sections less impressive, scenes exalt the courage of the early Christian martyrs who preached the gospel: the beheading of John the Baptist, beheading of St. Paul, the crucifixion of St. Peter and the stoning of St. Etienne.
South side, the iconography is more aimed at women with a large Last Judgement ("Christ in supreme judge separating the saved from the damned") and scenes from Christ's childhood acts of the Gospel according to St. Luke: Visitation, Nativity, Adoration of the Magi ... supplemented by a figure following the apocryphal writings, Salome accompanying the Virgin. Develops below a frieze of saints: the twelve apostles (which is missing John, who died in 1932 and that Judas was replaced by Matthias) and the Nine Saints, considered the founding fathers of the Church of Ethiopia who the gesture of blessing or take the cross. On the left part of the door you can see two great saints Ethiopian Takla Haymanot and Ewostatéwos, founders of two major Ethiopian monastic movements symbolize the unity of the Church through their complementarity (symmetrical composition and contrast of colors). Note that no part of this wall is shown at the Musée du Quai Branly.
Finally, the wall is located in the darkest part of the church, it is largely exposed to the Museum, on the left wall of the room. Scenes from the Old Testament prefigured the coming sacrifice of Christ and deploy them on three registers (only the two above are established). In the upper part, sheltered by umbrellas worn by slaves, the four kings of the Old Testament enthroned alongside their weapons and attributes: David and his harp, "revered as the psalmist," Solomon "considered the mythical founder of the Ethiopian kingdom by the son he had had with the Menelik Rene de Saba, "Hezekiah and Josiah, both known" for having fought against the idols, restored faith in religious reforms initiated. Below, is developing a frieze of fifteen prophets on both sides of the window, overcoming saints and saints-Ethiopian monks. Other scenes were unfortunately very fragmentary present on the wall is mainly episodes from the Old Testament that prefigure the sacrifice of Christ that can be guessed by comparison with other buildings (the sacrifice of Isaac, arrest Suzanne, Daniel in the lion's den ...). Finally, the scene of the window shows a portion of the life of St. Anthony, when it shared the bread with St. Paul the Hermit, as a foreshadowing of the Eucharist.
The paintings of Abba Antonios thus form a very complete. Their arrangement calls for a turn in a frieze around the sanctuary, like the priests who were moving ceremonies.

In 1932, Marcel Griaule discovered incidentally this beautiful set, although nothing indicated such a discovery. In "the removal of paints Antonios", he presents the church as a building in ruins, "the church back into the woods, her conical straw is a matter unspeakable united gray with subsidence, props chick, bellies heavy circular wall. Champignon rotten. ridge over the cross: a mast plagued by rain forty seasons, compiled a top handle. A ruin. We must have the business in the skin, really, for jump the wall of such misery, and walk, dragging his legs in the grass fat, and run over and broken stones of tombs hidden deep breath moisture responsible for incense. " However, upon entering, he was immediately stunned by the beauty of what faces him: "I go. More exciting than nine Gras rifles leveled, the pack of nine bright Fathers of the Church aligns itself before me . It's like a sharp shot. [...] What can we do about this dazzling appearance of haloes as cool as the sun in a barn in ruins? "I've never seen anything like it in Abyssinia." Indeed, during his previous trip to Ethiopia in 1928/29, Griaule had only visited churches to more recent paintings. Moreover, the choice of Gondar as camping spot was not premeditated because of many problems facing the mission was on his arrival at the border. Griaule decided accordingly in order to rescue and not to plunder, to bring these paintings to the Musée du Trocadero after negotiating with the local clergy. The transaction does not proceed smoothly and if Griaule tries to renew the church of St. Mary Gondariens, he will be prevented. In exchange for the renewal of paintings by new best-made oil painting in large part by the painter Gaston-Louis Roux (who joined the mission in July 1932) but not Griaule himself and Eric Lutten, the Mission is authorized to démaroufler old paintings. The technique of convincing Roux has borne fruit by throwing a bucket of water on a crucifixion carried out "in the purest style Abyssinian" according to Michel Leiris, it proves that the copies are made to withstand the weather. Cut to rectangles of 50 by 70cm, the paintings will be reported unless they were easily acquired: fearing confiscation at the border "that is to say the door open to pillage," says Marcel Griaule's Roux and Lifszyc canvases that have to go through the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan as Griaule and the rest of the team leaves the country at the end of December starting to Eritrea. On this occasion a whole system is set up to hide the reported works (nearly 400 manuscripts): double bottom drawers, scattering in different cases of the caravan, a camouflage ... Tabot is even burnt because he risked too attracted the attention of Customs. On December 5 the boundary is crossed without difficulty, and in February 1933 when Griaule meets Ethiopian governor, he asked only to raise the complaint filed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when he was scheduled to address the issue of compensation "for the lack of confidence and obstacles to the research mission."

Back in France, and it is somewhat surprising, Marcel Griaule completely abandons the Ethiopian studies for this focus on what he had discovered during another intensive study of the mission (that is to say the Dogon people ) despite a large exhibition and the opening of a department at the Museum of Black Africa. It's one his students, Wilhelm Staude studying objects reported. This note also become quite mysterious copies which, since 1956, has already partly disappeared. In 2004, Anais Wion goes on site and confirmed that disappearance, the church always seems too austere and we do find that some of the copies that a large St George.


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