Acquired largely since 1993, the collection of Ethiopian icons, manuscripts, and bronze processional crosses of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore is today one of the largest and finest collections outside of Ethiopia itself.
Historically, Ethiopia was a Christian kingdom with strong ties in both trade and religion to the cultures located around the Mediterranean. By the fifteenth century, this African nation had developed a tradition of icon-painting that rivaled the Orthodox empires of Byzantium and Russia, as well as the famed panel paintings of Renaissance Italy. That Ethiopian artists were aware of these other traditions is made apparent in their choice of religious subjects, such as Saint George on horseback or Mary with the Christ Child, which were adapted from Byzantine or Italian models. Nevertheless, a survey of Ethiopian art-from crosses to icons to manuscripts-makes it clear that, over time, Ethiopian artists transformed their models and infused their works with a unique sense of form and color. Angels of Light: Ethiopian Art from the Walters Art Museum featured approximately 40 highlights (icons, manuscripts, bronze processional crosses, etc.) from the Walters’ permanent collection, including recent acquisitions. A comprehensive publication, Ethiopian Art (2001), featuring scholarly essays by Kelly M. Holbert, Assistant Curator for Medieval Art, Walters Art Museum; Getatchew Haile, Hill Monastic Manuscript Library, St. John’s University; and Jacques Mercier, CNRS, Ethnology and Comparative Sociology Laboratory, University of Paris-X, served as a companion volume to the exhibition.