The Prince and the Plunder

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

Umbrella ornament

Published / by Andrew Heavens / Leave a Comment

What: A silver and brass umbrella ornament topped with an image of the Archangel Gabriel, 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.

The catalogue entry reads:

“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.”

Inscription translation: 

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.”

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: Af1868,1001.5
Date: 18thC
Height: 30 cm
Diameter: 11 cm

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