London’s Victoria & Albert Museum and the Looted Ethiopian Treasures

Maqdala press photos,5th March 2018
One of several processional crosses that were among the items looted during the British campaign in Ethiopia in 1868



V&A Opens Dialogue on Looted Ethiopian Treasures

“V&A Museum director pledges a rethink on objects that have been seized by British troops from Ethiopia, in Africa, in the 19th century.

The director Tristram Hunt offers to ‘shed new lights’ on the Ethiopian treasures that are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum looted in the historical battle of Maqdala in 1868 by British troops.

The museum plans on sending back the treasures to Ethiopia on a long-term loan. This renders the ownership of these treasures from Ethiopia still under V&A’s ownership. This offer might affect other UK institutions, which own similar looted Ethiopian treasures, pressuring them to follow the lead of V&A.

The list of institutions holding these Ethiopian treasures include prestigious names such as the British Museum and British Library. The approach can also be quoted as an effect of a more radical proposal of the French president Emmanuel Macron which he recently announced. [The Art Newspaper]

The Telegraph quotes V&A’s director Tristram Hunt: “As custodians of a number of important Ethiopian objects taken from Maqdala by the British military 150 years ago, we have a responsibility to celebrate the beauty of their craftsmanship, reflect on their modern meaning, and shine a light on this collection’s controversial history.”

Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) is geared up to display the Maqdala loot opening on April 5, 2018. The display will mark the 150th anniversary of the historical battle.

The show will bring together 20 items of Ethiopian treasures which includes a gold chalice (both 1735-40), a priestly gold crown embossed with images of the Apostles, a number of processional crosses along with some of the imperial jewelry and a wedding dress which is believed to belong to the emperor’s wife, Queen Terunesh. Also on display will be the text of a speech of William Gladstone that was presented by him in Parliament in 1872. [The Telegraph]

Ethiopia’s minister of culture and tourism Hirut Woldemariam will attend the formal opening of the show along with the ambassador Hailemichael Aberra Afework. [The Art Newspaper]

The Art Newspaper quotes the ambassador who spoke to them in March about the show: “We were consulted about the V&A exhibition from its inception, and we appreciate that these sacred treasures will now be on display. We hope they will be of great interest to the British public. Ethiopia has been demanding the return of all treasures taken from Maqdala for some years now.”

It has been a long pending appeal from the part of the Ethiopian government for the return of these treasures which the British military expedition brought after they successfully secured the release of the imprisoned British hostages of the Ethiopian Emperor Tewodros II. [Standard]

V&A museum’s loan to Ethiopia is subject to appropriate environmental and security conditions. This includes the legal guarantee of promptly returning these objects. But the situation complicates with the restitution claims being pending, it might seem a bit difficult gauge the possibility. [MZ Media]

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