Ethiopia at the Walters Acquisition coup: New works add to museum specialties in Eastern Christian art.

August 16, 1996

THE WALTERS ART GALLERY has made a substantial advance in the acquisition of 17 works of Ethiopian Christian art, most of which are now on public view. This complements its holdings in Armenian, Russian, Greek and early Italian Christian devotional art.

This addition to the collection flows naturally from the Walters' xTC stunning introduction of Ethiopian religious art to Americans in its 1993 show, which fed its own interest and reputation, indirectly leading to this purchase and extended loan.

Aside from a spectacular carved elephant tusk from West Africa and its ancient Egyptian holdings, the Walters is not as strong in African works as in most cultures. It is heir to what interested the collectors William and Henry Walters in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

As a world-class museum owned by the people of Baltimore City, to whom Henry Walters bequeathed it, the Walters can see a compelling reason to become stronger in African art. The city is 60 percent black. But if it did so on the basis of folk and ceremonial arts of West Africa, it would start out weakly duplicating what the Baltimore Museum of Art already does well.

Instead, the Walters has marched solidly into Africa from the east, from early times and from the Christian tradition of which it is already one of the world's greatest and most diverse repositories.

The Ethiopian art, aside from its strong and spiritual contribution of bold colors and bold patterns to Christian art, supported one of the world's earliest national Christian churches. To be the most important museum in this field, with the greatest collection outside Addis Ababa, is appropriate for the Walters in view of its other strengths. Good catch.

Pub Date: 8/16/96

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