Reconstructing Soft Furnishings in Medieval Ethiopian Rock-Cut Churches

Mikael Muehlbauer

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Coffee House Club

Silk textiles probably have never been so numerous as they are today in Ethiopia. Each church has nearly ubiquitous textile hangings distinguishing the altar space from that of the laity. Luxury silks are still imported from the same locales such as Greece, India and Egypt, as in the medieval period. Francisco Alvares, a member of the Portuguese delegation to Ethiopia in the early 16th century, remarked with wonder at the vast quantities of silk covering church interiors in Tigray, Ethiopia. Similarly, in the chronicles of the destructive campaign of Ahmad Ibrahim, which occupied the Christian state from 1529 to 1543, silks from Byzantium, India and Egypt are remarked upon with the destruction of each church.

While a systematic overview of objects in Church sacristies has yet to be undertaken in Ethiopia, few medieval silks remain. The 6th century monastery of Debra Damo in Tigray, which was not comprehensively raided in the 16th century, however has yielded a number Egyptian textiles from the Fatimid and Ayyubid dynasties.

In the absence of textile survivals, I offer a reconstruction of lost wall hangings through a comprehensive and typological study of the ornamental low relief carvings on the walls and ceilings of the rock-cut churches of Wukro Cherqos and Abreha wa-Atsbeha. This project is in anticipation of further research on Ethiopian conceptions of space, specifically sculpted space through veils and screens.

Mikael Muehlbauer is a PhD candidate in the department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University in the fields of Western Medieval, Byzantine and Medieval Egyptian art and architecture. He received his Bachelor of Arts in History with highest honors in Byzantine and Modern Greek studies from Queens College CUNY in 2014 (Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa), a Master’s degree and MPhil from Columbia University in Art History. His dissertation “‘Bastions of the Cross’: Medieval Rock-Cut Cruciform Churches of Tigray,” is the first in-depth study of centralized planned Ethiopian churches and their decorative schemas. He has previously been the recipient of fellowships from Central European University, Koç University, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Science foundation and the CUNY Graduate Center.

Toronto Tour

November 10-12, 2017

Field Trip to Toronto, Canada

Saturday, November 11

Aga Khan Museum

9:45 am Assemble at the entrance to the Aga Khan Museum (taxi is best means of transport)
10:00 am Permanent Collection Galleries
View the recently installed galleries of the superb collection of Islamic art largely assembled by the late Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan and Princess Catherine Aga Khan, with more recent additions acquired by his nephew, the present Aga Khan, for the Museum with loans from public and private collections.
11:00 am Highlights from the Bruschettini Collection
Guided walk through of the exhibition with museum curator Dr. Filiz Çakir-Phillip.
The Bruschettini Foundation for Islamic and Asian Art is world-renowned for its superb collection of Islamic art, and in particular, its carpets. This special exhibition will showcase a fascinating selection of masterpieces including 13th- to 17th-century carpets, textiles, polychrome Iznik wares, paintings, and precious inlaid metalwork selected from the collection. It is a rare opportunity to see these works of art outside of their home in Genoa, Italy.
12:00 pm Lunch at Diwan in the Aga Khan Museum
Family-style lunch in the restaurant’s dining room, decorated with elements from a 19th-century Damascene house.

Textile Museum of Canada

2:30 pm Diligence and Elegance: The Nature of Japanese Textiles
Curator Natalia Nekrassova will guide us through the exhibition Diligence and Elegance; The Nature of Japanese Textiles.
Diligence and Elegance: The Nature of Japanese Textiles presents over 50 textiles and garments from the Textile Museum of Canada’s collection of 19th and 20th century artifacts made in Japan for both everyday and occasional use. Luxurious silk and gold fabrics produced in Kyoto’s professional weaving workshops are juxtaposed with domestic indigo-dyed cotton, plant-fiber cloth, and silk kimonos crafted in an astonishing spectrum of time-honored techniques – weaving, dyeing, hand painting, gold foil application and embroidery – that exemplify venerable social and cultural values. Diligence and Elegance features the contemporary work of Hiroko Karuno and Keiko Shintani, two Japanese-Canadians whose consummate craftsmanship and philosophies are profoundly connected to the evolution of Japanese textile traditions of spinning, dyeing and weaving.

Banu – Iranian Kabob and Vodka Bar (Dinner)

Private Home Tour
Long time Hajji Baba Club members and renowned collectors invite us into their home for a visit and viewing of selected pieces.

For those going to the airport following this visit, you may bring your luggage as there is adequate safe storage available. Porter Air (13 flights daily to Newark) is 10 minutes away. Pearson Airport is 45 minutes to an hour away, depending on traffic. Taxis are plentiful.
For those continuing on, take taxis to lunch on Bloor Street

Museum Tavern (Lunch)

Bata Shoe Museum

Senior Curator Elizabeth Semmelhack, will guide us through highlights of the collection and current exhibitions, as well as taking us into the magnificent collection storage, a rare treat. Founded by Sonja Bata, the Bata Shoe Museum’s collection of over 13,000 shoes and related items is intended as a world-class research and exhibition facility for footwear. A variety of exhibitions explores the cultural context of shoes worldwide, both historically and currently.