The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Exhibition Review - Æthiopia Porta Fidei - I Colori dell'Africa Cristiana

Author - Jacopo Gnisci

Set in the town of Vicenza, a small architectural jewel of northern Italy dotted with Palladian villas, the exhibition Æthiopia Porta Fidei, the title inspired by Acts 14:27, offered an overview of Ethiopian art from the sixteenth to the twentieth century. This was the last in a series of three exhibitions held in the Veneto region and centred on the arts and culture of Christian Ethiopia. It offered, in the words of the curator Giuseppe Barbieri, "a synthesis" of the previous two events. Although largely based on artefacts from private collections it incorporated several artworks of the Museo Diocesano of Vicenza.

A few panels helped contextualize the exhibition, discussing the history of the country as well as the role of art amongst Christian Ethiopians. The overall experience of the exhibition was enriched by the projections of videos and the reproduction of mezmur, Christians songs in Amharic. Particularly worthy of mention was the projection of an interview with the late Prof. Stanislaw Chojnacki. A small, but rich catalogue, with contributions by prominent Italian scholars such as Alessandro Bausi and Ósvaldo Raineri, accompanied the exhibition.

The artworks, mostly crosses and seventeenth century portable icons, were displayed in a simple, yet elegant, fashion. Some of the icons (cat. 2 and 20) offered exquisite examples of Ethiopian painting and carving. There were also four manuscripts from private collections, the oldest of which was dated to 1524, as well as several other artefacts, such as shields and magic scrolls, collected by Pietro Nonis Bishop of Vicenza between 1988 and 2003.

My only point of criticism of this excellent exhibition is the dating of certain objects. I feel uncertain about the attribution of some of the icons to the seventeenth century. Whereas, I am quite certain that two groups of crosses, one dated roughly between the fifteenth and the sixteenth century (cat. 51-54), the other to between the seventeenth and the eighteenth century (cat. 56-60), belong to the twentieth century, or at the very earliest to the nineteenth century.

Overall the exhibition was well presented and engaging. More details of the exhibition, with videos, photographs of some of the exhibits, and details about the catalogue and other publications relating to the exhibition can be found on the exhibition's website (in Italian).

Æthiopia Porta Fidei exhibition catalogue cover

Æthiopia Porta Fidei
Giuseppe Barbieri and Gianfranco Fiaccadori
Treviso: Terra Ferma, 2012
ISBN 9788863221916
Paperback 80 pages;
Price €15.00

First Published in News File Spring 2013

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