Allan Matthews recently donated an Ethiopian painting, a Ghanian fra-fra dress, a Yemeni wooden door lock, and a West African bracelet collected during his travels in Africa and the Middle East in the 1960s.
The layout of this painting has been compared to a comic strip: the story unfolds through small, framed images that include narration written in Amharic calligraphic script. The painting depicts the Biblical story of the journey of the Queen of Sheba to meet King Solomon in Jerusalem.
The traditional Ethiopian story of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon is detailed in the religious text the Kebra Nagast. The Queen of Sheba was an Ethiopian named Makeda who visited Solomon and, after returning to the city of Aksum, soon gave birth to Menilek, Solomon's son. A grown Menilek later visited Solomon and absconded with the Ark of the Covenant, which, according to Ethiopian tradition, resides in a church in Aksum to this day.
Ethiopian painting tradition dates back centuries, when art instruction was primarily under the purview of church education. Painting was considered an important method of imparting narratives to the community in conjunction with calligraphy, which is used to identify figures and to detail storylines. Ethiopian artists today learn art through the public school system. Another major twentieth-century transition in painting was the creation of art outside of the patronage system. Previously, the church and nobility commissioned artwork. A growing tourist market led to the generation of secular art for this new market, including the expansion of secular topics, notably battle scenes. Despite the religious topic, this piece is considered secular art because it was created for the tourist market rather than the church. The Sheba and Solomon story is a part of Ethiopian imperial identity, with figures like Haile Selassie claiming dynastic origins with Solomon, and remains one of the most popular in secular painting.
This article was written by Registrar Jennifer White.
Learn More: Painting: "Queen Sheba Visits King Solomon" 2008.02.0004
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