Images of the Gospels, through Ethiopian and European Eyes

Date / time: 23 May, 5:30 pm - 7:30 pm

THE WARBURG INSTITUTE School of Advanced Study | University of London

Images of the Gospels, through Ethiopian and European Eyes

The Evangelium arabicum as vorlage for an Ethiopian tetraevangelium. An example of the new Gondärine style of painting in Ethiopia in the 17th century

A John Coffin Memorial Lecture

By Dr Dorothea McEwan (Honorary Fellow, Warburg Institute, and Associate Fellow of the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences)

Tuesday 23 May, 5.30 pm Warburg Institute Lecture Room, Woburn Square, London WC1H 0AB | And online via Zoom

Illuminated gospel books such as Or 510 in the British Library, 1664-65, and the Märtula Maryam gospel book, kept in Märtula Maryam, also called Ǝnnäbǝse, in Gojjam, Central Ethiopia, c. 1650s, are examples of precious gospel books of the middle of the 17th century. The gospel stories are richly illuminated, the paintings skilfully executed by more than one painter, the colours still vivid and well-preserved.

Dr McEwan chose the Märtula Maryam tetraevangelium to explain its European source or vorlage, the so-called Evangelium arabicum of 1591. What makes the illuminations in the Ethiopian manuscript book so extraordinarily important is the adoption of painting methods such as the nascent use of perspective and the borrowing of visual props from its European vorlage. Dr McEwan’s presentation into the origins and sources of the Ethiopian images is centred on parallel examples from the Ethiopian and European books. She will show pictures selected from the gospel according to Luke and explain their adaptation to the Ethiopian painting milieu, throwing up idiosyncrasies in the Ethiopian illuminations, triggered by transposing European images in to the Ethiopian milieu.

Dorothea McEwan studied History at the University of Vienna where she was awarded her PhD. After having moved to London she worked in the British Library cataloguing the John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough papers. She was the Archivist in The Warburg Institute, University of London, until her retirement and has devoted her time since to researching illuminated Ethiopian manuscripts. She has published widely on historical and theological topics. In 2008 she was awarded the Cross of Honour in Art and Sciences from the President of the Republic of Austria, in 2021 the Grand Decoration for Services to the Republic of Austria from the President of the Republic of Austria, and in 2017 she was elected Associate Fellow of the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences.

This lecture follows a paper by Dr McEwan at the British Library in May 2019, an online international conference on Ethiopian art and architecture, hosted by Complutense University, Madrid, in November 2021, and an online seminar on recent studies in Ethiopian art and architecture held at the Warburg Institute in May 2022.


The lecture will be followed by a drinks reception.

Details and booking:

Image: Wiki Commons