The court of judgement of Tewodros II, painting by unknown artist

AD 1920 - 1950
From Ethiopia

During the twentieth century, depictions of the court of judgement of Ethiopian emperors became a popular theme for artists in Ethiopia. These paintings show an emperor seated in judgement while around him those people who have broken his law are punished. It can perhaps be seen as an allegory of the Biblical Day of Judgement.

This painting, made in the 1940s, shows the court of judgement of Emperor Tewodros II, who ruled Ethiopia from 1855 to 1868. It graphically illustrates the cruelty with which Tewodros punished his opponents.

Tewodros II is shown seated beneath the silk brocade canopy of a royal tent and between two lions, a traditional symbol of Ethiopian royalty. The Emperor's retainers are gathered all around with their swords raised. To the left the clergy wearing embroidered capes and white turbans can be seen seated and with open books in their hands. In front of the Emperor in the foreground of the painting are five Rases (dukes) each wearing richly embroidered velvet cloaks. To the right prisoners wait to be judged by the court. On the left of the painting the punishments inflicted on those for breaking Tewodros' law are shown in detail.

During the mid-twentieth century, when this painting was made, artist’s workshops in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa produced a large number of paintings in this style for the tourist market. Emperor Haile Selassie I (1892-1974) sought to restrict the production of these paintings because he was concerned by the negative image they represented of Ethiopia abroad.

This painting was discovered in Devizes, Wiltshire in 2003 and brought to the British Museum where conservators have relined and stretched the painting to preserve it for future generations.


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Height: 82.50 cm
Width: 142.50 cm

Museum number

Af 2003,19.1

Found in Devizes, Wiltshire


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