We are fortunate in knowing that this Gospel Book was commissioned by Princess Zir Ganela for the monastery of which she was abbess. Ganela entered religious life in her middle age, after a marriage that produced four children. She was the granddaughter of Emperor Amda Seyon I of Ethiopia (r. 1314-1344), the heroic warrior who is sometimes considered to have been the founder of the Ethiopian state. Her father was Newaya Krestos, eldest son of Seyon I and who succeeded him as emperor from 1344 to 1372. Both of her brothers also successively ruled as emperors of Ethiopia: Newaya Maryam from 1372 to 1382, and Dawit I from 1382 to 1413. It was during the latter's reign that Ganela commissioned her Gospels. Like the princess, Dawit also commissioned illuminated manuscripts.
This fifteenth-century book is lushly illuminated with twenty-six full-page miniatures (some illustrating more than one event), eight decorated canon tables, and four incipit leaves. Its energetic scenes are painted in a vivid palette that is dominated by a hot orange and other warm colors. Distinctive among the miniatures are the long suite of illustrations of the life of Christ and the four portraits of the evangelists. The figures throughout are singular for their often upwardly rolled eyes.
Zir Ganela's Gospel Book was one of Belle da Costa Greene's last acquisitions for the Morgan Library, bought the same year she retired. It and other purchases on Greene's part reveal that her taste was quite ahead of its time--illuminations such as those painted in Ganela's Gospels were little appreciated until later in the twentieth century.
Ms. Gospel book; written and illuminated in Ethiopia in 1400-1401 (August 29, 1400-August 28, 1401, according to the colophon on fol. 205v).
Decoration: 26 full-page miniatures, 8 decorated canon tables, 4 illuminated incipit leaves.
Balicka-Witakowska, p. 130, mentions the observation by Pirenne (J. Pirenne, Paleographic clues for classification of Ge'ez writings from the 6th to 16th century, 1982, typescript) that the canon table pages are earlier than the manuscript, dated 10th-11th century.
A note in Italian on fol. 91 in purple ink, the same ink used for the earlier foliation, reads: Manca qualchecosa fra le due pagine (something is missing between the two pages).