Alchitrof, Emperor of Ethiopia by Cristofano dell Altissimo

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Alchitrof, Emperor of Ethiopia by Cristofano dell Altissimo

Painting NameAlchitrof Emperor of Ethiopia
Painter NameCristofano dell Altissimo
Completion Date1568
Size59 x 42 cm
Current LocationGalleria degli Uffizi Florence

Old paintings have their charm, but this one by Cristofano dell’Altissimo is more than just beautiful, imposing or appealing. It is all three, and revolutionary as well, because dell’Altissimo belonged to a time when Ethiopians were regarded to be a little different from humans!

Moreover, the Ethiopia of then included other neighboring regions, from where western explorers had brought back stark stories and captivating descriptions of their cross-continental friends and foes. Dell’Altissimo’s work centers around the impression people started having about African kings when the world started its drive into “modern history”.

The painter’s contemporaries had a beastly impression of African rulers and their subjects because of their way of life in a drastically different climate and geography. Although Europeans had not been there before, dell’Altissimo belonged to a time when the explorations were beginning. He was one of the firsts who depicted African life in a more realistic way than was the impression in people’s minds. Here, King Alchitrof, the Emperor is a humane being, with the eyes of poet and a penchant for local fashion. Moreover, he is not the dark character, one often felt actually existed because their skin tone.

This oil on wood is showcased at Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence. There, at Dell’Altissimo’s town, you can witness what they call the Giovio Series – a collection of 484 paintings, among which the majority are portraits of the then Duke – Cosimo I de’Medici. As a result, Altissimo’s impression in royal portraits is something you would never doubt for a second. Faces have been his forte – so much, that he could have been the only artist who painted royal portraits with cross-continental popularity in his lifetime.

This 1568 masterpiece will remain etched in my memory of virtuoso paintings. Moreover, it’s modest size (less than 2 feet by 1.8 feet), dell’Altissimo’s choice of materials and medium, the age of the wood and the fact that it endures like lard – leave me simply mesmerized beyond judgment.

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