The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Book Review - The Indigenous and the Foreign in Christian Ethiopian Art

Manuel João Ramos, Isabel Boavida (eds)

Reviewer - Anne Parsons

The Indigenous and the Foreign in Christian Ethiopian Art presents a selection of the papers delivered during the fifth International Conference on the History of Ethiopian Art held at Arrábida near Lisbon in October 1999. The main focus is on the l6th and 17th centuries, a particularly rich period in the history of Ethiopia, although several papers do cover topics outside these dates.

The contributors come from Europe, Canada and the USA, and Ethiopia. All are notable experts in their fields. Some, for example Stephen Bell, Martha and Paul Henze, and Richard Pankhurst, will already be well known to many members of the Anglo-Ethiopian Society.

The book includes fourteen papers divided into three categories: Architecture and Urbanism; Icon and Mural Paintings; and Decorative Arts. The papers not only present a wide array of topics but range from speculation and postulation of theories through to reports of technical studies.

Architecture and Urbanism includes studies of Ethiopian capital cities, stone architecture around Lake Tana, and assessments of foreign influences on architecture.

The Icon and Mural Paintings section includes an examination of Gondarine painting, a study of Ethiopian warrior saints in manuscript miniatures, the influence of occidental engravings on Ethiopian paintings, an analysis of manuscript pigments, and a discussion of how Ethiopian folk painting of the 19th and 20th centuries represented the Muslim leader Ahmed Gran.

Decorative Arts has papers on textiles imported into Ethiopia, an exploration of the history of a wooden cross (now missing) that was taken from Ethiopia to Goa and Portugal (and believed to have been carved from a fragment of the True Cross), and finally a discussion of a military helmet and mail shirt at the monastery of Dabrä Warq (members may well remember Stephen Bell giving a Society lecture on this topic and now be pleased to see that it is published in full).

Many of the papers are illustrated with black and white photographs. There is also a set of colour plates at the start of the book. Unfortunately no indication is given as to which paper each colour plate relates to and in only a few cases is this self-evident although they are referenced correctly in the appropriate text.

Detailed notes appear at the end of each individual paper and an extensive bibliography is provided at the end of the book. The comprehensive index is a very necessary feature in this type of multi-authored and multidisciplinary book.

This collection of papers is far more accessible than the somewhat cumbersome and imposing title may indicate. An academic background is not necessary to understand much of what is presented. Every one of the papers is interesting and likely to increase the general reader's knowledge, and appreciation, of Ethiopian history and culture.

The Indigenous and the Foreign in Christian Ethiopian Art edited by Manuel João Ramos with Isabel Boavida is published by Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 2004.
230 pages, 48 b&w and 14 colour illustrations plus 6 maps. Hardback.
ISBN: 0754650375
Price: £45.00 or $89.95

First Published in News File Spring 2005

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