Church and Emperor:
An Ethiopian Crucifixion

6 March – 5 May 2008

Exhibition closed

Room 3

The Asahi Shimbun Displays
Objects in focus

Supported by

To celebrate the first Easter of the new Ethiopian millennium, this display focuses on a recently conserved painting originating from Tigray in northern Ethiopia.

The painting was made in the mid-19th century for the Church of The Saviour of the World at Adwa. It was donated to the Museum in 1893 by James Theodore Bent, but has never before been on public display.

This unique painting tells multiple stories, with layered meanings, about Church and Empire in 19th-century Ethiopia.

The image of the crucifixion of Christ is at its centre, but the scenes around the edge of the painting explore a turbulent period of Ethiopian history, including the life story of Bishop Selama, head of the Ethiopian Church from 1841 to 1867 and a key political and religious figure of the time.

The painting follows many Ethiopian artistic traditions, both in style and composition.

By layering historical narratives with messages of Holy Scripture, it communicates complex ideas of faith and history through image rather than word. It provides insight into the complex relationship between church and state and allows a greater understanding of modern Ethiopian history.

Detail of The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the life of Bishop Selama

Detail of The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the life of Bishop Selama, painting by an unknown artist, around AD 1855. From Tigray, Ethiopia.