Book Series Art History (Outside a Series)

Mandaean Symbolic Art

Sandra van Rompaey

  • Pages: iv + 358 p.
  • Size:216 x 280 mm
  • Illustrations:89 b/w, 125 col., 8 tables b/w., 2 maps b/w
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2024

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-59365-4
  • Hardback
  • Available


Dr Sandra van Rompaey is an honorary research associate at La Trobe University. Her research interests focus on the illustrated manuscript art of the Mandaean religion and on the photographic documentation of current Mandaean ritual practices in Sydney, Australia.


Mandaean Symbolic Art examines the structure, function, and symbolic associations of the artwork within the major Mandaean religious scrolls. It acknowledges the artwork itself as a fundamental component of nine scrolls, in some instances occupying over half of the manuscript. Acting in conjunction with the Mandaic text, the illustrations are designed to communicate a complex body of religious knowledge.

The organization of the study is primarily iconographic in that it is structured around an investigation of the three most dominant motifs: the figure, the drabša (or ‘banner’) and representations of plants. This structure allows for the systematic examination of symbolic associations which are crucial to the functioning of the scrolls as an instructional tool for priests. Investigation of the figure is focused predominantly on the major ‘Lightworld’ beings, including representations of Adam and key female identities. The central icon of the Mandaean religion, the drabša, is discussed in terms of its hidden symbolism, and also in relation to its possible development in the Mesopotamian region. As well as the image of the cosmic tree and the date palm, the final section looks at a range of plants whose ritual use is integral to the functioning of the religion.

Analysis of the artwork is informed by a study of both the accompanying text and the wider tradition of Mandaean religious literature. Additionally, documentation of Mandaean ritual practices in present-day Australia, photographed by the author over a ten-year period, has been drawn on extensively to explain aspects of the iconography.




Chapter 1. The Figure as Symbol

Chapter 2. The Two Faces of Adam

Chapter 3. The Drabša of Radiance

Chapter 4. The Drabša and the Vexillum

Chapter 5. The Tree Šatrin

Chapter 6. The Great First Date Palm

Chapter 7. The Sacred Treasure of Celestial Plants

Appendix 1: Tables

Table 1. Illustrated Named Male Lightworld Figures in Mandaean Manuscripts

Table 2. Illustrated Named Female Lightworld Figures in Mandaean Manuscripts

Table 3. Illustrated Named Prominent Female Figures from the Worlds of Light and Darkness in Mandaean Manuscripts

Table 4. Illustrated Drabšia in Mandaean Manuscripts

Table 5. Illustrated Named Drabšia in Mandaean Manuscripts

Table 6. Items Associated with Illustrated Drabšia in Mandaean Manuscripts

Table 7. Illustrated Plants in Mandaean Manuscripts

Table 8. Illustrated Personified Trees in Mandaean Manuscripts

Appendix 2: Glossary

Appendix 3: Compendium of Lightworld and Darkworld Beings



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