In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Art History of Ethiopia

  • Introduction
  • International Conferences on the History of Ethiopian Art
  • Historiography
  • Rock Art
  • Ethio-SabAean and Aksumite Art
  • Megalithic Art and Stelae
  • Islamic Art and Architecture

Art History Art History of Ethiopia
Claire Bosc-Tiessé
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 October 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0119


This bibliography focuses on visual arts, namely painting, architecture, sculpture, engravings, and, to a degree, textiles, produced within the Ethiopian region (now divided into Ethiopia and Eritrea) during the long period from the rock art of the Holocene era to contemporary art. In the northern part of this area, people of South Arabia developed important settlements during the first millennium BCE. There, the Aksumite kingdom flourished from the 1st century BCE until the 7th century CE, and was Christianized in the 4th century. There are very few remains of Christian Aksumite art, but from the 13th to the 20th centuries, there was an uninterrupted production of religious paintings and church buildings. Islam spread to this part of Africa from its beginnings, and Muslim sultanates developed from this time in the eastern region and then most specifically around Harar, from the 16th century onward. At the end of the 19th century, Menelik, King of King of Ethiopia, expanded the southern part of his country, doubling its size. Limited bibliographical information is presented here for artistic productions in this part of this modern nation. In fact, the geographic areas covered by this bibliography vary according to the period. For prehistoric art, we give examples in the whole Horn of Africa, which is the scale at which the specialists of this region are working. To follow the historical evolution of the Ethiopian political space, production within what is now Eritrea is sometimes included, particularly for Aksumite and medieval times, but this bibliography cannot be considered comprehensive for more recent arts in Eritrea. Christian art forms have been studied more than other material, but in this bibliography they will be proportionately less represented in order to provide sources for various other fields that have received less scholarly attention. Therefore, this bibliography reflects neither the number of surviving artworks nor the number of the studies done. Furthermore, there is no general overview of all the topics addressed in this bibliography, but such overviews are sometimes existing for subtopics. It must be noted that while Ethiopian names are composed of a personal name followed by the name of a person’s father, in publications and library catalogs the personal name is sometimes taken on as a surname, while sometimes the father’s name is used in this way. Systems of transcription also vary, so diverse spellings will appear in this bibliography.

International Conferences on the History of Ethiopian Art

In addition to international conferences on Ethiopian studies, specific congresses dedicated to art have occurred since 1986. They were organized first at the instigation of the historian Richard Pankhurst, founder of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies (IES) at Addis Ababa University, and Stanislaw Chojnacki, keeper of the IES Museum until the revolution, who were both prolific writers on Ethiopian art and history. First focusing on Christian art, the proceedings of these conferences addressed very specific points and do not provide any general overviews. They show, however, a field of study and how this field is pragmatically defined. If these conferences have not always gathered every art historian who is a specialist on Ethiopia, they do give good insights into scholars interested in the field at least at one point in their careers, and thus provide a list of scholars to follow. Even if the articles published in these proceedings are of very different quality, they may be mined for information. Intervals between the conferences have been irregular. To date, ten conferences have met, and proceedings were published for six of them. The third one was held in Addis Ababa in November 1993, and the proceedings were announced but never appeared. The eighth conference was held in Addis Ababa in November 2009, the ninth in Vienna in September 2013, and the tenth in Maqale (Ethiopia) in December 2015.

  • Henze, Paul B., ed. Aspects of Ethiopian Art from Ancient Axum to the Twentieth Century. London: Jed Press, 1993.

    The published proceedings of the second conference, held at Nieborów, Poland, convened by the National Museum of Poland in September 1990, though the papers presented at the conference and the edited articles are not entirely the same. The topics are widened with papers on coinage, contemporary paintings, and popular art, including sculpture and architecture of the Rift Valley and the tombs of the Oromo people.

  • Palmisano, Antonio L., Stanislaw Chojnacki, and Ariane C. H. Baghaï, eds. I molti volti dell’arte etiopica/The Many Faces of Ethiopian Art: Atti del IV Convegno inernazionale di Storia dell’Arte etiopica/Proceedings of the IV International Conference on the History of Ethiopian Art, 24–27 settembre 1996/24–27 september 1996, Trieste. Bologne: Bononia University Press, 2010.

    A collection of papers focused on ancient Christian architecture and painting, popular painting, apparel, photographs in historical writing, contemporary painting, and architecture.

  • Proceedings of the First International Conference of the History of Ethiopian Art, Sponsored by the Royal Asiatic Society, Held at the Warburg Institute of the University of London, October 21 and 22,1986. London: Pindar Press, 1989.

    The first international conference on this theme, organized by Richard Pankhurst, founder of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies (IES) at Addis Ababa University, and Stanislaw Chojnacki, keeper of the IES Museum until the Rrevolution. It includes texts on Ethiopian Christian art and on the so-called traditional and popular painting.

  • Ramos, Manuel João, and Isabel Boavida, eds. The Indigenous and the Foreign in Christian Ethiopian Art: On Portuguese-Ethiopian Contacts in the 16th-17th centuries. Papers from the Fifth International Conference on the History of Ethiopian Art (Arrábida, 26–30 October 1999). Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2004.

    From the original contributions presented at the conference, the editors kept the papers dealing with relationships between Portugal and Ethiopia at a time when the two countries exchanged embassies, and when clergymen and soldiers from Portugal traveled around Ethiopia. Some more general papers on Christian art were added.

  • Raunig, Walter, and Asfa-Wossen Asserate, eds. Orbis Aethiopicus: Beiträge zu Geschichte, Religion und Kunst Äthiopiens. Vol. 10, Ethiopian Art: A Unique Cultural Heritage and Modern Challenge. Wissenschaftliche Tagung der Geselschaft Orbis Aethiopicusin Leipzig vom 24–26 Juni 2005 in Verbindung mit der 7th International Conference of Ethiopian Art. Lublin: Maria Curie-Sklodowska University Press, 2007.

    For the program of the conference, which was different from the proceedings, see p. xiii–xvi. The conference was held in honor of the art historian Stanislaw Chojnacki, and includes a bibliography of this prolific writer’s work (mainly based on iconographic themes) from 1990 to 2006 (p. xi–xii). For Chojnacki’s publications before 1990, see Scholz 1992.

  • Scholz, Piotr O., ed. Orbis Aethiopicus, Studia in honorem Stanislas Chojnacki. Vol. 2, Archaeologia et artes. Albstadt: Karl Schuler, 1992.

    The second volume of the conference of the German society Orbis Aethiopicus was dedicated to Ethiopian and Nubian art history. A list of Chojnacki’s publications up to 1990 may be found here (p. xvii–xx).

  • Teferra, Birhanu, and Richard Pankhurst, eds. Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on the History of Ethiopian Art, Addis Ababa, 5–8 November 2002. Addis Ababa: Institute of Ethiopian Studies, 2003.

    To the usual topics, articles on themes rarely dealt with were added. These included contemporary sculpture and architecture in southern Ethiopia, especially in Konso and Gurage areas.

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