The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Ethiopian Showcase - Tuesday 8th December 2009

Victoria and Albert Museum

Given by - organised by Dorothea McEwan

Reviewed by - Gill Davies

One of the embroidered robes of Woyzaro Terunesh
One of the embroidered robes of Woyzaro Terunesh.
Photo © Tony Betts

Eighteen members of the Anglo-Ethiopian Society were privileged to view some of the wonderful Ethiopian treasures held by the V&A Museum, many of which are associated with the British Military Expedition to Ethiopia in 1868. We were met by Clare Browne (Fashion and Textiles Department), Louise Hofman (Sculpture, Metalwork Ceramics and Glass Department) and Ashley Givens (Word and Image Department) whom we should like to thank for selecting special items of interest from the collection to show us and to stimulate lively discussion within the group, and for giving their time to make our visit memorable.

Our first pleasure was to look at two dresses belonging to Theodore's (Tewodros II 1855-1869, Instigator of Ethiopian Unity) second wife, Woyzaro Terunesh. These were given to the museum in 1869 and were cotton robes embellished with silk embroidery in magnificent colours. We also saw a priest's robe with religious symbolism from the Coptic church, silver and gilt embroidery on a red silk background. The back had a hood showing church figures with birds, and angel heads with a pearl surround. It had inscriptions in Coptic and Arabic, the workmanship being Egyptian.

The gold crown from Magdala
The top of the gold crown from Magdala
The gold crown from Magdala.
Photo © Tony Betts

We were then shown a most unusual processional 19th century hand-held silver cross engraved on both sides, probably from Gondar, the inverted arch supporting the cross showing the devil. We looked at a solid gold chalice weighing 6 pounds, which has an inscription stating that it was given to the church of Quesquam by King Iyyasu II who ruled 1730-55 and his mother Walatta Giyorgis. We looked at an Ethiopian censor used for incense, a prayer scroll in Amharic with coloured pictures of angels and a manuscript written in Ge'ez. These were followed by a spectacular gold crown of Magdala [which is now understood to be a sacerdotal crown], taken by the British in 1868 after the suicide of Tewodros; it is cylindrical in shape, the dome decorated with images of the evangelists.

Jewellery probably belonging to Woyzaro Terunesh was displayed and included a necklace in silver, leather and amber, a bracelet and anklet, rings on a sash and a silver hair pin with a decorated finial. These were given by the Secretary of State for India to the V&A in 1869.

Our final venue was the prints and drawings study room, where we had the opportunity to view wonderful photographs. Photographic equipment was sent from England to Magdala with the Royal Engineers to record landscapes, camp scenes and individuals concerned with Napier's campaign. Three panoramas were formed by pasting 3 photos together recording the expedition camp at Zoola, Anneslay Bay and Senafe. We enjoyed photos of the Devil's staircase on the Middle and Upper Sooroo rivers, Magdala church with its wood and thatch roof, Addigratt church and tower. a family album, and various portraits. Some of the photos were taken by Julia Margaret Cameron, including one of Captain Speedy, Civil Interpreter to the expedition, and one of Prince Alamayou, which kept us enthralled and fascinated.

After this wonderful tour Andrew Chadwick thanked Louise, Clare, Ashley and their support staff for making our informative visit possible, which all AES members present really appreciated.

First Published in News File Spring 2010

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