Oh, Hi, Ethiopia’s Most Important Relic, Looted By The British Museum

the first color photo published of Kwer’ata Re’esu, a c.1520 painting of the Blessing Christ, which was tracked down by The Art Newspaper over 25+ years. image: TAN/Martin Bailey

Martin Bailey just dropped an extraordinary tale of investigation of an amazing tale of officially organized looting in The Art Newspaper. The subject is an early 16th century painting of Christ, , which became the most important religious relic in Ethiopian Orthodoxy. It was stolen on orders of the British Museum in 1868, who sent an agent to Ethiopia to loot artifacts and manuscripts from the midst of war. That agent, Richard Holmes, took the painting from above the bed of the emperor, and ended up keeping it for himself.

The painting’s nearly invisible, deracinated history since then, and reconnecting it to its Ethiopian context, are a central part of The Art Newspaper’s investigation, which began in at least 1998.

Kwer’ata Re’esu was widely copied within Ethiopia over the centuries, but the original was carefully guarded by the emperors. Until the 1990s, when TAN located it in Portugal, Kwer’ata Re’esu had only been known by a single 1905 photograph. Bailey went to visit it and took what are now the first known color images of the painting, including its frame and backing, all seemingly intact after 500 years.

Exclusive: first colour photographs shed fresh light on Ethiopia’s most treasured icon and its looting by an agent of the British Museum [theartnewspaper]