February marked the opening of a new display, “African Scribes: Manuscript Culture of Ethiopia in the British Library’s Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery. It will be the first exhibit to be held at the Library devoted entirely to Ethiopian manuscripts, exploring the culture of a manuscript tradition, which extends back to the early centuries of the Christian era. The Ethiopian collections in the British Library include over 500 manuscripts most of which are written in Ge’ez and were acquired from the mid-eighteenth century onwards.

 

The collection is especially strong in illuminated manuscripts of the 16th and 17th centuries and also contains, in addition to biblical texts, an important collection of Ethiopian magical and divinatory scrolls. On display is a selection of twelve exhibits chosen to demonstrate the arts of painting and calligraphy besides serving as an introduction to Ethiopian literary traditions.

 

This manuscript was copied during the reign of king ‘Iyasu II (r. 1730-55) and, like the majority of Ethiopian manuscripts in the British Library, has retained its original binding. This is the only known example, however, of a copper gilt cover, comprising carvings of figures and of the cross.

 

Some of our Ethiopian manuscripts are being digitised as we write and will shortly be made available on our website as part of Heritage made Digital. This is one of the Library’s five main focuses for the coming years and for the first time; the British Library has allocated a part of its government grant towards digitisation. During the next two years we aim to digitise some 250 manuscripts from the Ethiopian collection. The first 25 manuscripts have already been catalogued and imaged, and will soon be available online.

 

We’ll be writing more about Ethiopian manuscripts as they go live so follow us on Twitter @BLAsia_Africa

SOURCE: THE BRITISH LIBRARY