King Theodore of Abyssinia

ca. 1868 (made)


Height: 10.4 cm (of carte de visite), Width: 6.4 cm (of carte de visite)

PH.374-1885 PDP

Carte de visite, Tewodros II (Theodore) of Abyssinia (Ethiopia), London, ca. 1868

Photograph of sketch of the head and shoulders of the Ethiopian emperor Tewodros II (Theodore) mounted onto card to form a carte de visite. Handwritten text on the reverse notes that the image was 'taken from a sketch by one of the captives'.

This image of the Ethiopian emperor Tewodros II (Theodore) was created shortly after his death on 13 April 1868. Frustrated by a lack of communication from Queen Victoria's government, back in 1864 Tewodros had taken a number of Europeans captive, including the British consul, Captain Cameron. The British response was a military expedition of huge complexity and expense led by General Sir Robert Napier. The expedition marched to Tewodros's fortress at Maqdala where a brief battle took place. Britain won the conflict, but not before the captives were released and Tewodros himself had committed suicide. The expedition - and the characters associated with it - caught the imagination of the British public. In particular the figure of the Ethiopian emperor, variously described as a 'barbarian potentate', 'tyrant' and 'mad, wild king', was a popular focus. Yet Tewodros could also be portrayed admiringly as a noble warrior - an attitude which this image seems to reflect. The authenticity of the image is supported by its provenance; handwritten text on its reverse notes that it was 'taken from a sketch by one of the captives'.

Location: Prints & Drawings Study Room, room 512M, case MX8, shelf X, box 19

View this object on the V&A website