Abstract

Menelik II was both King of Shewa (1865–1888) and Emperor of Ethiopia (1889–1912). In the late nineteenth century he was confronted with issues unique to the era of European colonization in Africa. This paper examines Menelik II’s use of the visual arts in expressing and communicating ideas about royal authority and power. I examine several illuminated manuscripts commissioned by Menelik II. The books document how Menelik II borrowed and adapted objects and symbols from Ethiopia’s ancient past as a Christian power. Menelik realized that his image as an African ruler who retained his independence was unique within the contexts of late nineteenth-century Africa, wherein the entire continent was colonized except for Liberia and Ethiopia. Menelik II used the traditional Christian art of manuscript illumination in Ethiopia to create visual images that symbolically reinforced his authority as both a Christian and an African sovereign.

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