The Story of the Clubfooted Man is one of 72 hand-painted illustrations from a lavish 158-page bound manuscript devoted to the miracles of Mary. It was created in the late 17th century in Gonder, the newly established capital of Christian Ethiopia’s Solomonic Kings. The manuscript is part of a closely related group of manuscripts that was created during a period of great artistic innovation in Christian Ethiopia, when manuscript illuminators were exploring new approaches to their art, including the introduction of narrative illustrations. It is likely that this book was commissioned by a wealthy individual as a high-status guide for family devotion.
Christianity has existed in Ethiopia since the 4th century. In the distinctive practices of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Mary, Christ’s mother, is highly revered as an intercessor between her son and a sinful or suffering humanity. This image demonstrates her benevolence and compassion for a disabled man. At left, the man shows his clubfoot to an archbishop. Next, he prays to Mary, who holds a diminutive Christ in her arms, and is cured. The man then displays his healed foot. The composition is distinguished by whimsical architecture and decorative details including the thrones that bear Mary and the archbishop. Bold outlines define the figures and schematic shading enlivens their faces in a manner typical of manuscript and mural painting produced in Gonder during this period.
Mary’s significance within Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity intensified during the mid-15th-century reign of Emperor Ze’ra Ya’equob (who reigned from 1434 to1468), who established more than 30 feast days honoring her and commissioned many texts to guide worshipers in their celebrations.