It is with the long and idiosyncratic Christian tradition of Ethiopia in mind that one must approach the small exhibition of devotional art at Galerie Mirage. Uniquely for sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopians were exposed to Christianity just a few decades after the Crucifixion and by 330 AD had officially adopted it as their state religion. As Ethiopia remained the only Christian country south of Egypt for over a millenium, it developed a distinctive style of Christian art and worship different from either its Middle Eastern or European iterations.
In the corner of the boutique hang about twenty delicately-painted wooden icons, depicting various scenes from Ethiopian religious tradition. In one is shown the local saint Gabre Manfus Kidhur, famous for preaching to wild animals. In another, Saint George is portrayed slaying the dragon and rescuing a maiden, Britawit, from its clutches. 'Britawit' means 'girl from Beirut' and hints at Ethiopia's links with Christian communities further afield, a theme also suggested by the resemblance of many of the icons to Coptic and Maronite images from the Levant. Nonetheless, the unusual way in which Ethiopian Christianity developed gives rise to a number of artistic foibles singular to the country and visible here. Most strikingly, Jesus and the disciples are depicted as black, with unusually large, circular eyes. Elsewhere, Roman soldiers are shown in profile. The helpful information sheet accompanying the exhibition explains that ill-intentioned characters are painted in profile, with only one eye showing.
Although Ethiopia is a small exhibition (it only takes fifteen minutes or so to browse) the quality of the works on display makes it worth a visit. Apart from the icons - all of which are for sale - one can also view a decent selection of hand-crafted Ethiopian textiles and baskets, as well as Galerie Mirage's regular collection of tasteful arts and crafts. It may be a bit far from the centre of town but if you find yourself craving an escape from the chaos of the Royal Mile do pop in for a look.