- Museum number
Royal umbrella top made of silver. A copper base plate with circular hole is attached to the underside of the circular flat base with one copper and one brass nail. A short hollow stem extends from the base and has two holes for attaching to the top of an umbrella. This supports a spherical body which is decorated with eight radial bands of repousee work decorated with circular motifs. A central band, with repoussé edging is set with square cut glass and rock crystal of various colours, some of which are faceted. A rim extends out from below this band and is decorated with tiny conical bells, many of which are missing. An elaborate finial with repoussé work and conical bells is surmounted with a silver medallion containing a painting on paper of Archangel Gabriel. The haloed saint is depicted with raised wings, wearing an Ethiopian style cape with pendant panels. In his right hand he holds a raised sword and in his left the sword's sheath. There is a faded Ge'ez inscription to the left. The painting is covered with a circle of glass and at the back of the painting is a piece of cloth, [cotton/silk]. The edge of the medallion has a finial patée cross, a further six are missing.
- Production date
Diameter: 11 centimetres
Height: 30 centimetres
- Curator's comments
In Ethiopia umbrellas, Tela, are used to protect and honour important dignitaries, the Imperial family and high ranking church officials. They are often made of silk and rich brocades decorated and embroidered with gold and silver. Royal umbrellas were further embellished with ornate finials made of silver or silver gilt.
Elaborately decorated umbrellas are also used by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church to protect and honour church dignitaries. The Eucharist, Tabots or Tsellat of the church and other objects that are holy, such as icons and books may also be honoured in this way.
The acquisition register (volume 1, 1861-1907) notes that the medallion contains a painting of Saint Michael, however the Ge'ez inscription clearly says Gabriel.
See file in Eth Doc 439 in AOA Archives on transfer of these objects from former Medieval & Later Dept.
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Maqdala, an almost impenetrable mountain top fortress in northern Ethiopia, became the seat of power and a retreat for Emperor Tewodros II (1855-1868). The Emperor intended Maqdala to become his capital and treasury. He collected many manuscripts from churches throughout Ethiopia and brought them to Maqdala with the intention of creating a great library and seat of learning. His treasury included many fine examples of Ethiopian art including textiles, paintings and metal work.
In the 1860s relations between Tewodros and Britain became strained and relations deteriorated further when Tewodros imprisoned the British consul and several European missionaries. In 1867 a military expedition led by Sir Robert Napier was sent to free the British captives with a force made up of 12,000 men from both the British and Indian armies.
At dawn on Easter Monday April 13th 1868, Napier ordered an assault on Maqdala to destroy Tewodros’s stronghold. When his troops entered the fortress they found the Emperor already dead. Rather than surrender, Tewodros had taken his own life using a pistol which had been a gift from Queen Victoria. This last defiant act has immortalised Tewodros as a national hero for many Ethiopians.
Material taken from Maqdala was auctioned soon after on the Delanta plain. Richard Rivington Holmes, an assistant in the manuscripts department of The British Museum, had accompanied the expedition as an archaeologist. He acquired a number of objects for the British Museum, including around 300 manuscripts which are now housed in the British Library. In 1868 the Secretary of State for India, Sir Stafford Henry Northcote, 1st Earl of Iddesleigh, donated to The British Museum two further collections of material from Maqdala.
Material from Maqdala can be found in public collections in North America and Europe as well as in private collections worldwide. When the Maqdala collections first entered the British Museum in 1868 they stimulated a worldwide interest in the archaeology, history and culture of Ethiopia which has continued to this day. For Tewodros’ library see Rita Pankhurst ‘The Library of Emperor Tewodros II…’ Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 36(1), 1973 pp 15-42.
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number