Visual History of the World




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Dictionary of Art and Artists


The World Wars and Interwar Period 



The first half of the 20th century saw the world entangled in two global wars, conducted with an unprecedented brutality. The First World War developed from a purely European affair into a conflict involving the colonies and the United States. It altered Europe's political landscape and shifted the power balance worldwide. In World War II, the nations of Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa were drawn into the conflict through the aggressive policies of an ambitious Nazi Germany. The war was conducted with the most up-to-date weapons technology and cost the lives of more than 55 million people. The Holocaust, the systematic annihilation of the European Jews, represented an unparalleled moral catastrophe for modern civilization.


Pablo Picasso "Weeping Woman", 1937




Ethiopia and Egypt:
Between Subjugation and Independence

UNTIL 1945


Ethiopia and Egypt hold a special position in Africa's colonial history. Egypt had been occupied by the British since 1882 and was formally tied to the Ottoman Empire until 1916. However, it was never fully subjugated and was able to bring about the withdrawal of the British army in 1936. Ethiopia (known as Abyssinia before the First World War) was conquered in a brutal campaign by Mussolini's army but was restored to independence in 1941.


Egypt: Between Sovereignty and British Custodianship

Egypt was an important field of operations for the British military in both world wars. Even as a sovereign state, it was bound to Britain in World War II through alliance commitments, though some nationalists looked to the Axis powers for help in ending British influence.


In 1882, British troops occupied Egypt and took control of the country, albeit without terminating its official status as part of the Ottoman Empire. Widespread reforms were carried out under the leadership of Sir Evelyn Baring. At the outbreak of World War 1, however, Great Britain officially declared Egypt a protectorate, imposing martial law and cutting the last ties to the Ottomans.

British troops halted an Ottoman-German offensive against the Suez Canal in 1914 and then used Egypt as a base lor attacks on Syria and Palestine.

In 1919, Great Britain prohibited the participation of the Egyptian nationalist 3 Wafd party in the Versailles conferences, resulting in fierce strikes and unrest that were answered with arrests and hangings.

In response, the British granted the country independence in 1922, while still maintaining its military presence and remaining in charge of foreign affairs in order to protect their own interests.

When 2 King Fuad I died in 1936, Great Britain reaffirmed Egypt's sovereignty in an alliance treaty and withdrew its troops, except from the Suez Canal zone.

It insisted, however, on the right of intervention in case of war, and so Egypt was once again occupied during World War II and used as a military base in fighting the Italo-German alliance.

The 6 British army defeated German forces in 1942 at El Alamein and forced a withdrawal to Libya.

3 Memorial to Saghlul Pasha, founder
of the Wafd party, Alexandria

2 King Fuad I

6 Tank division of the Anglo-Egyptian Army, mobilized
to counter the Italian threat in Ethiopia, 1940


Egypt's 4 King Farouk I was forced to replace his pro-Axis government with a pro-British one.

It was not until 1945 that 1 Egypt officially declared war on Germany.

4 King Farouk I at his wedding, 1938

1 US transport plane delivering supplies to the Allied troops in Egypt, 1943


With the exception of their forces securing the 5 Suez canal, the British once again withdrew from the country in 1946 but still retained explicit control of Sudan.

5 The Suez Canal, a key waterway for international trade, 1940



Ethiopia under Haile Selassie I

Due to its modern state structure, Ethiopia was long able to maintain its independence. Italy occupied the country only between 1936 and 1941.


The Treaty of Addis Ababa in October 1896, following the uprising under Emperor Menelik of Shoa, ensured the independence of Ethiopia—then still known as Abyssinia—for 40 years, while Eritrea remained under Italian control. Ethiopia held fast to its course of modernization even after the death of Menelik II in 1913. His grandson Lij Yasu was deposed by public proclamation and succeeded by Menelik's daughter.

Ras Tafari Makonnen became king in 1928 and two years later was enthroned as emperor under the name 8 Haile Selassie I.

8 Haile Selassie wearing the imperial robes, 1930

He enshrined suffrage and civil rights in a new constitution and brought his country into the League of Nations in 1930.

No international intervention took place, however, when Italy seized control of 7, 10 Ethiopia under the Fascist leadership of Benito Mussolini.

In October 1934, Italy manufactured a frontier incident and used it as a justification for war after Ethiopia refused impossible conditions. From October 1935 until May 1936, Italy fought a campaign with modern aircraft, tanks and chemical weapons against Ethiopian cavalry, which provoked an international scandal.

7 Italian infantry during the invasion of Ethiopia, 1935

10 Ethiopian tribal chief, captured by Italian soldiers, 1936

9 Ethiopians fight guerrilla war, 1941

On May 5,1936, Italian troops captured the capital Addis Ababa. The emperor was forced into exile in London, and Ethiopia was combined with Eritrea and Italian Somaliland to form the colony of Italian East Africa. The people bitterly resisted the invaders in a 9 guerrilla war and in 1940 supported the British offensive against the Italians in Africa. Haile Selassie returned from exile and retook the throne, ruling up until 1974.



The Rastafarians

The Rastafarians are members of a religion created after the crowning of Haile Selassie (Ras Tafari). They believe him to be the one true god. Particularly popular in the Caribbean region, the Rastafarian movement considers its members to be the descendents of the Ethiopian kings from the line of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

It combines social demands with the aspiration to return to Africa. Its members are supposed to pursue natural lifetyles, and they wear their hair in dreadlocks. The Rastafarians are best known for reggae music, which developed in the 1940s and gained global popularity.

King Solomon receives the Queen of Sheba





political and religious movement
also spelled Ras Tafari

religious and political movement, begun in Jamaica in the 1930s and adopted by many groups around the globe, that combines Protestant Christianity, mysticism, and a pan-African political consciousness.

Rastas, as members of the movement are called, see their past, present, and future in a distinct way. Drawing from Old Testament stories, especially that of Exodus, they “overstand” (rather than understand) people of African descent in the Americas and around the world to be “exiles in Babylon.” They believe that they are being tested by Jah (God) through slavery and the existence of economic injustice and racial “downpression” (rather than oppression). Looking to the New Testament book of Revelation, Rastas await their deliverance from captivity and their return to Zion, the symbolic name for Africa drawn from the biblical tradition. Ethiopia, the site of a dynastic power, is the ultimate home of all Africans and the seat of Jah, and repatriation is one goal of the movement. Many (though not all) Rastas believe that the Ethiopian emperor, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, crowned in 1930, is the Second Coming of Christ who returned to redeem all black people. The movement takes its name from the emperor’s precoronation name, Ras Tafari.

Jamaican Rastas are descendants of African slaves who were converted to Christianity in Jamaica by missionaries using the text of the King James Version of the Bible. Rastas maintain that the King James Version is a corrupted account of the true word of God, since English slave owners promoted incorrect readings of the Bible in order to better control slaves. Rastas believe that they can come to know the true meanings of biblical scriptures by cultivating a mystical consciousness of oneself with Jah, called “I-and-I.” Rastas read the Bible selectively, however, emphasizing passages from Leviticus that admonish the cutting of hair and beard and the eating of certain foods and that prescribe rituals of prayer and meditation. Based on their reading of the Old Testament, many Rasta men uphold patriarchal values, and the movement is often charged with sexism by both insiders and outsiders. “Iyaric,” or “Dread-talk,” is the linguistic style of many Rastas, who substitute the sound of “I” for certain syllables.

Rastafari “livity,” or the principle of balanced lifestyle, includes the wearing of long hair locked in its natural, uncombed state, dressing in the colours of red, green, gold, and black (which symbolize the life force of blood, herbs, royalty, and Africanness), and eating an “I-tal” (natural, vegetarian) diet. Religious rituals include prayer services, the smoking of ganja (marijuana) to achieve better “itation” (meditation) with Jah, and “bingis” (all-night drumming ceremonies). Reggae music grew out of the Rastafari movement and was made popular throughout the world by the Jamaican singer and songwriter Bob Marley.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Haile Selassie I

Haile Selassie I

emperor of Ethiopia
original name Tafari Makonnen

born July 23, 1892, near Harer, Eth.
died Aug. 27, 1975, Addis Ababa

emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974 who sought to modernize his country and who steered it into the mainstream of post-World War II African politics. He brought Ethiopia into the League of Nations and the United Nations and made Addis Ababa the major centre for the Organization of African Unity (now African Union).

Tafari was a great-grandson of Sahle Selassie of Shewa (Shoa) and a son of Ras (Prince) Makonnen, a chief adviser to Emperor Menilek II. Educated at home by French missionaries, Tafari at an early age favourably impressed the emperor with his intellectual abilities and was promoted accordingly. As governor of Sidamo and then of Harer province, he followed progressive policies, seeking to break the feudal power of the local nobility by increasing the authority of the central government—for example, by developing a salaried civil service. He thereby came to represent politically progressive elements of the population. In 1911 he married Wayzaro Menen, a great-granddaughter of Menilek II.

When Menilek II died in 1913, his grandson Lij Yasu succeeded to the throne, but the latter’s unreliability and his close association with Islam made him unpopular with the majority Christian population of Ethiopia. Tafari became the rallying point of the Christian resistance, and he deposed Lij Yasu in 1916. Zauditu, Menilek II’s daughter, thereupon became empress in 1917, and Ras Tafari was named regent and heir apparent to the throne.

While Zauditu was conservative in outlook, Ras Tafari was progressive and became the focus of the aspirations of the modernist younger generation. In 1923 he had a conspicuous success in the admission of Ethiopia to the League of Nations. In the following year he visited Rome, Paris, and London, becoming the first Ethiopian ruler ever to go abroad. In 1928 he assumed the title of negus (“king”), and two years later, when Zauditu died, he was crowned emperor (Nov. 2, 1930) and took the name of Haile Selassie (“Might of the Trinity”). In 1931 he promulgated a new constitution, which strictly limited the powers of Parliament. From the late 1920s on, Haile Selassie in effect was the Ethiopian government, and, by establishing provincial schools, strengthening the police forces, and progressively outlawing feudal taxation, he sought to both help his people and increase the authority of the central government.

When Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, Haile Selassie led the resistance, but in May 1936 he was forced into exile. He appealed for help from the League of Nations in a memorable speech that he delivered to that body in Geneva on June 30, 1936. With the advent of World War II, he secured British assistance in forming an army of Ethiopian exiles in the Sudan. British and Ethiopian forces invaded Ethiopia in January 1941 and recaptured Addis Ababa several months later. Although he was reinstated as emperor, Haile Selassie had to recreate the authority he had previously exercised. He again implemented social, economic, and educational reforms in an attempt to modernize Ethiopian government and society on a slow and gradual basis.

The Ethiopian government continued to be largely the expression of Haile Selassie’s personal authority. In 1955 he granted a new constitution giving him as much power as the previous one. Overt opposition to his rule surfaced in December 1960, when a dissident wing of the army secured control of Addis Ababa and was dislodged only after a sharp engagement with loyalist elements.

Haile Selassie played a very important role in the establishment of the Organization of African Unity in 1963. His rule in Ethiopia continued until 1974, at which time famine, worsening unemployment, and the political stagnation of his government prompted segments of the army to mutiny. They deposed Haile Selassie and established a provisional military government that espoused Marxist ideologies. Haile Selassie was kept under house arrest in his own palace, where he spent the remainder of his life. Official sources at the time attributed his death to natural causes, but evidence later emerged suggesting that he had been strangled on the orders of the military government.

Haile Selassie was regarded as the messiah of the African race by the Rastafarian movement.

Encyclopaedia Britannica


Piero della Francesca. The Queen of Sheba Meeting with Solomon (detail)



Konrad Witz. King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba



Tintoretto. The Queen of Sheba and Solomon (ca. 1555). Prado Museum



Nicolaus Knupfer. Queen of Sheba before Solomon, 1640s



Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, Giovanni Demin, c. 1825



Francesco del Cossa.
The Meeting of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba



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