The Indigenous and the Foreign in Christian Ethiopian Art: On Portuguese-Ethiopian Contacts in the 16th-17th Centuries

By Klemm, Peri M. | The International Journal of African Historical Studies, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

The Indigenous and the Foreign in Christian Ethiopian Art: On Portuguese-Ethiopian Contacts in the 16th-17th Centuries


Klemm, Peri M., The International Journal of African Historical Studies


The Indigenous and the Foreign in Christian Ethiopian Art: On Portuguese-Ethiopian Contacts in the 16th-17th Centuries. Edited by Manuel João Ramos with Isabel Boavida. Papers from the Fifth International Conference on the History of Ethiopian Art (Arrabida, 26-30 November 1999). Burlington, Verm.: Ashgate Publishing; Lisbon, Portugal: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Fundação Oriente, 2004. Pp. xxiv, 230; 14 color and 48 b/w illustrations and six maps. $79.95/£45.00.

Christian Ethiopian art is most often examined in light of extraneous quotation, including its dependence upon foreign formal and thematic influences and artists. Since the inception of the study of Ethiopian art-a relatively young and underexposed field-there has been a consistent drive to examine Orthodox Christian painting and architecture in relation to their affinity to foreign prototypes, including Paléo-Christian, Italio-Byzantine, Greek, Coptic, Armenian, and Indian. In this manner, this text contributes fourteen enlightening case studies that both examine the influences of Portuguese art and craftsmen on Ethiopian architecture, painting, and decorative arts and provocatively call into question previously held beliefs about the cultural borrowing of Western art forms.

The fourteen articles in this volume are revisions of select papers presented at the Fifth International Conference on the History of Ethiopian Art (1999). Many of the same scholars also presented at the recent 10lh Orbis Aethiopicus Conference in conjunction with the 7th International Conference of Ethiopian Art (Leipzig, June 2005) including Stanislaw Chojnacki, who was honored as Nestor in Studies of Ethiopian Art. In this text, these illustrious researchers provide the reader with several thought provoking articles that present new interpretations and previously uncharted aesthetic connections between Ethiopia (then Abyssinia) art and the Portuguese period. The Portuguese presence in Ethiopia began in the 1520's with a diplomatic post followed by military and missionary activity. Written accounts of the Jesuit mission in 1557 from Goa suggest that European artists were highly sought after by the emperors who employed their services in palace, fortress, and church construction and painted Biblical depictions.

The text is divided into three sections. In Part One, "Architecture and Urbanism," scholars Richard Pankhurst, LaVerle Berry, Fasil Giorghis, Ian Campbell, and Paul Henze examine royal stone monuments situated in the Lake Tana region where two architectural styles developed in the 1570's and the early 1600's respectively. LaVerle's article, among others, convincingly challenges the assumption that this later style, known as Gondarine architecture, was first built in Gondar and modeled after earlier Jesuit buildings on Ethiopian soil. …

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