The Prince and the Plunder

A book on how Britain took one boy and piles of treasures from Ethiopia

The Limoges-Ethiopian diptych

Published / by Andrew Heavens / Leave a Comment

What: A Diptych, showing a 16th century Limoges enamel next to an engraving of the Ethiopian saint Abun Gabra Manfus Qeddus, taken by the British Museum’s expert on the expedition, Richard Rivington Holmes

Where: The British Museum, Great Russell St, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3DG

Provenance: Maqdala referenced at length in the museum’s acquisition notes. Used as an illustration on the museum’s Maqdala collection page.

The catalogue entry reads:

“Diptych contained in a silver gilt case which has on the front an applied eight pointed star decoration with a centrally mounted circular red stone [glass?]. The case is hinged along the right side by two small pin hinges, and opens from the left. It has two suspension points along the top edge.

“Inside the case on the left hand side is a late 16th century Limoges enamel, in the style of Pierre Raymond, depicting Christ taking leave of his mother. The enamel is a copy of the 1509 woodcut of the same title by Albrecht Durer. The enamel is held in place by a series of triangular “teeth” around the edge.

“On the right hand side is a gilded engraving of the Ethiopian saint Abun Gabra Manfus Qeddus. The saint is depicted standing with his hands raised in prayer, an elongated face with finely engraved features and a large halo. He wears a scapular and a robe scored with fine linear patterns representing the belief that the Saint was clothed only in his own hair. At his feet are four lions. Around the left side, top edge and right side are inscriptions in Ge’ez and further inscriptions to either side of the saint.”

Inscription Translation:
… Walata Giorgis [?]

Inscription Translation
Saint Abun Gabra manfus Qeddus

Acquisition notes: “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.”

Museum number: Af1868,1001.7
Date: 16thC-19thC
Height: 11.50 cm
Width: 13 cm
Depth: 7 cm
Previous owner/ex-collection: Sir Richard Rivington Holmes
Acquisition date: 1868

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