The Christmas Story: Images from Ethiopic Manuscripts

The Nativity. The Virgin Mary and the Baby Jesus in a manger, with Joseph. From the Nagara Māryām, the history and miracles of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 18th century (British Library Or. 607, f.13v)
The Ethiopic collections in the British Library include about 600 manuscripts which were acquired from the mid-eighteenth century onwards. The collection is strong in illuminated manuscripts of the 16th and 17th centuries and also contains, in addition to biblical texts, an important collection of Ethiopian magical and divinatory scrolls. Several catalogues have been published, the details of which are given below.
Or. 481, written in a small elegant character on vellum, dates from the second half of the seventeenth century. It contains the first eight books of the Old Testament (the Octateuch), the four Gospels, numerous short works on church order, canons of Ecumenical Councils and other ecclesiastical works. It is decorated with coloured borders and contains many illustrations.

Our third manuscript, Or. 510, beautifully written on vellum in three columns, dates from 1664-65 and was copied in Gondar, Ethiopia, for King John I, ʼAʼlaf Sagad, and his queen, Sabla Wangēl. The manuscript as a whole demonstrates the use of European models for the illustrations which were inspired by those of A. Tempesta, based on Dūrer, in the Arabic Gospels published in Rome in 1590-91. In the process of copying, perspective was eliminated and the presentation simplified.
Further reading
August Dillmann, Catalogus codicum manuscriptorum Orientalium qui in Museo Britannico asservantur. Pars tertia, codices aethiopicos amplectans. London, 1847.
William Wright, Catalogue of the Ethiopic Manuscripts in the British Museum Acquired Since the Year 1847. London, 1877.
Stefan Strelcyn, Catalogue of Ethiopian Manuscripts in the British Library Acquired Since the Year 1877. London, 1978.

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