History of Art


Illuminated Ethiopic Leaves in Stockholm

By Christian Etheridge

The Gospel Book NMB 2034 is found in the Nationalmuseum of Stockholm’s collection of manuscripts. It was purchased from H.P. Kraus Inc., New York in 1973. Dated to AD 1340–60 (Gnisci 2020: 70) this Gospel Book is believed to originate from a monastery near Asmara (Nordenfalk 1979: 17). NMB 2034 is fragmentary, and only 32 leaves are owned by the Nationalmuseum. It is written on parchment in black ink with red rubrics and measures 27.5 x 18.5 cm. The manuscript begins with the Ethiopic version of Eusebius’s Letter to Carpianus followed by Eusebian canon tables and the chapter list to the gospels of Matthew and Mark.

Fig. 1. An Evangelist portrait of St Mark from an Ethiopic Gospel Book, ca. AD 1340 –60, Stockholm, Nationalmuseum, NMB 2034, fol. 16v (Photo: Stockholm, Nationalmuseum)

Parts of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John survive along with three full-page images of Evangelists (Fig. 1). A leaf now held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (acc. no. 2006. 100, 27.8 x 19 cm) has been identified as being part of the NMB 2034 manuscript. A full cycle of four full-page miniatures has been recently reconstructed. This begins with the Met’s Tempietto miniature on recto and the Crucifixion without the Crucified on its verso. Following this image are the depictions of the Holy Women at the Tomb on the NMB 2034 recto and the Ascension on its verso. These miniatures together are often referred to as the short cycle (Gnisci 2020: 69). NMB 2034 has been previously exhibited at the African Zion: The Sacred Art of Ethiopia exhibition held at the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, (1993–1994), and the Sacred: Discover What We Share exhibition held at the British Library, London (2007).

Fig. 2. Nationalmuseum conservator, Yolanda Bustamante using a Dino-lite digital microscope to record data about f. 16v for conservation purposes (Photo: Stockholm, Nationalmuseum)

The Nationalmuseum in Stockholm is currently conducting a project on its manuscript collection. This will involve firstly a thorough investigation and conservation of the manuscripts. Secondly, the digitization of the entire collection. And, finally, updating the catalogue. The aim of the project is to have the collection accessible digitally for online research. The NMB 2034 Gospel Book is currently being conservated as it had deteriorated. When the conservation and investigation are complete, NMB 2034 will be fully digitized. The online catalogue will be then updated with the most recent research and hopefully linked with the Met fragment.


Dr Christian Etheridge works at the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm as a researcher on their medieval manuscripts project .