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oil painting

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Oil painting on canvas; illustrates scene of the meeting of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, surrounded by their respective attendants.

  • Producer name

  • Date

    • 2003 (about)
  • Production place

  • Materials

  • Dimensions

    • Width: 297 centimetres
    • Height: 154 centimetres
  • Curator's comments

    Qes Adamu Tesfaw - Biography "I was born about 60 years ago in Bichena in [the province of ] Gojjam. My father was a priest but he did not paint. He lived in Rome and Jerusalem for five years. I'd really like to visit those places but at this time I cannot afford it. I received a church education. After completing Dequna I served the Church for twelve years, and after graduating from Qesinna I served the church for four years.1 I have been a priest for 34 years but I no longer lead the life of a priest. I stopped doing that because I wanted to focus on being a painter I have an interest and love for painting. I dream about it most of the time. I left Gojjam and came to Addis to strengthen my skills and promote my work. There is a better supply of raw materials, the demand for paintings is high, and you can also become well known here. I learned from other painters. While I was attending Church school in Gojjam I observed Qes Gebez Anteneh as he painted, that is how I learned. Qes Gebez's painting teacher, Aleqa Kassa Getahun, was my uncle, so Qes Gebez felt obligated to teach me and he did. Then I came to Addis Ababa and learned more from my godfather, Ato Yohannes Tesemma, who was a painter and teacher at the Itege Training Center. He taught me how to be a better painter. Each of them recognized my interest and skill and encouraged me to paint. I really admire the work of Qes Gebez and Ato Yohannes, both of whom are now deceased. I have one son and three daughters. They are interested in painting and assist in mixing paints and trimming the cloth. Even my daughters assist me and give me ideas for my work. One of the girls, Woyineshet, has produced a few paintings. I work on several paintings at a time. It is difficult to finish a painting in one stroke! I guess it takes me about two or three days to make a painting. In the past, people painted from their imagination. Today, we look at different books to get ideas. I really admire ancient painters". Adamu Tesfaw (narrated to Leah Niederstadt).
    Adamu Tesfaw and Religious Painting in Ethiopia The association of paintings and the Ethiopian Church probably goes back to the introduction of Christianity to Ethiopia in the fourth century. It is generally held that the Aksumite king, Ezana, was the first Ethiopian monarch to embrace the Christian faith. Aksum continues to be one of the great centers of religious painting in Ethiopia. Christianity is a vital part of Tigray and Amhara culture; the priests of the churches in the provinces of Tigray, Begemder, Gojjam, Wello, and Shoa have produced magnificent religious and, to a limited extent, history paintings. The stylistic roots of Adamu's paintings are the same as those associated with the paintings of all "Eastern Churches". It is believed that Christianity was introduced into Ethiopia by Frumentius from Tyre (in Phoenicia). He was ordained as the first Bishop of Aksum by the Patriarch of Alexandria. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has shared close affinities with the Coptic Church and its culture ever since. The fundamental canons of Byzantine painting introduced 1,500 years ago have been thoroughly assimilated by the Ethiopian Church, but in the process they were transformed at various times and places into a tradition that is distinctly Ethiopian. Religious paintings are used in a number of different contexts. They may serve as illustrations for religious texts, like the Psalms of David and the Holy Scriptures; they also are found adorning the walls of Ethiopian churches. Aside from their scale (mural paintings of course are much larger), the style and subject matter is basically the same, however their function is significantly different. Manuscript illustrations serve as personal devotional images primarily seen only by priests, while mural paintings are meant to be viewed by all who enter the church. Since most of the worshipers in Ethiopia have been non-literate, mural paintings have served an important educational function teaching everyone about the faith. Icons, single wood panels, diptychs (two-panel paintings), and triptychs (three-panel paintings), are part of the same tradition but serve as portable altar pieces that may be carried in religious processions. Smaller versions of the diptychs (often two-sided double diptychs) that can be suspended from the neck with a cord used to be carried by priests. Like many aesthetic processes, painting was and still is learned by working with a mentor; observing and assisting someone who has already acquired the knowledge and skills associated with the preparation of pigments, the fabrication of brushes, the preparation of the vellum, paper, cloth, wood, rock, or clay painting surface, and the mode of representation (i.e., style) and subject matter. Adamu, while studying to be a priest (qes) in Gojjam, worked first with Qes Gebez Anteneh and then Aleqa Kassa Getahun. Jembere Hailu, another painter featured in "Ethiopia: Traditions of Creativity", was trained in the same manner in Begemder. Painting traditionally is a man's occupation in Ethiopia, especially in the Church. But this situation is changing, particularly in Addis Ababa where a few women, having attended the School of Fine Arts, are pursing careers as artists. It will be interesting to see if any of Adamu's daughters continue to paint. Adamu paints on commission. Churches and individuals come to him and ask him to paint a particular subject. He also paints for the market. Adamu relates that customers sometimes see his work in shops and then come and ask him to paint something similar for them. He sells his paintings in different shops. At times the merchants tell him what he should repeat for future sale. He paints on a variety of media, including goat skin, wood, and cloth. Painting is a passion for Adamuùit is not an occupation, it is his life. One can see this looking around his house, where he has used virtually every foot of wall space to paint various themes including St. George, the Madonna and Child, and the Queen of Sheba. Adamu chose to leave the priesthood in order to devote all of his time to painting. Despite painting for different clients, Adamu always approaches his paintings the same way it doesn't matter whether the painting is destined for a church or a shop, he applies all his skill, knowledge, and creative energy to all paintings. He never creates two paintings the same way and he approaches each as a unique challenge. Adamu recently donated two paintings of St. George to Zebech Iyasus Mutti Qeddus Giyorgis, a church located near his house in Addis Ababa. The two interpretations of the classic scene of St. George slaying the dragon are quite different. This is very interesting because many scholars who have studied Ethiopian traditional painting would assume that two works produced by the same "traditional" painter and dealing with the same religious theme would be quite similar. This view stems from a perception that Ethiopian religious painting is a conservative tradition, that there is little room for creativity and innovation, and that the major changes that have been introduced to Ethiopian traditional painting over the last 1000 years have come from outside, primarily from Europe. Perhaps Adamu's philosophy is a product of his living in the twentieth century and in Addis Ababa where he is likely to have assimilated some Western attitudes about art. But one cannot help but wonder if Adamu's outlook has perhaps been shared by other priests who have painted in the past. (Description for 1994 Exhibition of Qes Adamu's work at Michigan State University by Silverman; information supplied by Lean Niederstadt, ANE Corres, September 2004)


  • Condition

    complete; rolled and unframed NB Keep in conditioned storeroom because of risk of infestation

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Africa, Oceania & the Americas

  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • EPH-ME.303 (Previous ME dept registration number)
Oil painting on canvas; illustrates scene of the meeting of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, surrounded by their respective attendants.



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