Icon Projet : The study of pictorial techniques of Ethiopian icons through a production dated from 15th to 18th centuries
This project was carried by INP until january 2019.
This study examines a corpus of 16 Ethiopian icons belonging to a collection at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies in Adis-Abbeba University in Ethiopia. The works studied correspond to productions dated between the 15th and 18th centuries.
The first Ethiopian icons conserved date from the 15th century but we are unable to determine today if they appeared at this time in Ethiopia or if other, older icons had existed before and since disappeared. While some hagiographic sources mention, on occasion, the use and place of the icons, even giving a brief description of the objects, there are no specific archives on commissions, painters, subjects and materials. Documents are scare and not only are the objects their own source, they are also their first. In such circumstances, an in-depth study of the objects themselves, their iconography and shape, but also their technological background, is crucial in order to associate and apply them to the data provided by the texts.
With this in mind, a project to analyse materials and a study of technological processes were launched in 2009 in partnership with the Institute of Ethiopian Studies (IES), the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage, the Centre Français des Etudes Ethiopiennes (French Centre for Ethopian Studies), the C2RMF the IMAF and the Inp.
The purpose of this project is to analyse all painting components. This does not just mean the pigments and colours used but also the support, binders, undercoating and varnish. The project concentrates especially on the way the materials were used. Indeed, more than the identification of material types, it is the way that they were implemented, either in isolation or in combination, that is most telling of the savoir-faire, interaction or the technological and cultural choices made. It proved difficult to identity their exact origin. The analysis also focuses on the state of degradation and alteration phenomena of the materials, and aims to highlight the impact that this could have on the percepton of colour. They therefore form part of an overall conservation and restoration strategy of these works.
The first part of the study focused on the oldest icons dating from the 15th century. The study and mineral analysis of the remaining samples (around 50) concerned mainly works dating from 16th to 18th centuries. This work was carried out between 2015 and 2016 and is currently being drafted.
A short visit to the Institute of Ethiopian Studies is planned for the end of 2018 in order to present the analysis findings conducted on the works and to expand the corpus of icons studied.