The story of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, a traditional subject of Ethiopian art, appears in this rendition by Janbaru Wandemu, painted in the 1950s. Recorded in the Kebra Nagast ( Glory of Kings), a literary work preserved in manuscripts from the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century C.E., the story may have existed as early as the sixth century C.E. It tells of the descent of the the Ethiopian monarchs from Solomon and Makeda (the Ethiopian name for the Queen of Sheba) and of the bringing of the Ark of the Covenant to Ethiopia.

The 44 panels, laid out according to a traditional format, progress along the horizontal rows from upper left to lower right. The story begins (panel 1) with Wainaba, the snake dragon at upper right, ruling Ethiopia. The people agree to make Angabo king if he kills this monster (2). Angabo mixes a poison (3), feeds it to his goat (4) and feeds his goat to Wainaba (6). This kills Wainaba (7), and Angabo becomes king (8–9). When Angabo dies (10), his daughter Makeda becomes queen (11).

Meanwhile, King Solomon is building the Temple, and he sends messengers, in boats as seen here, throughout the world searching for materials (12–15). After taking gold, jewels and timber to Solomon, Makeda’s envoys return with great tales of Solomon’s kingdom (16). Impressed, Makeda sets forth (17) to visit him herself (18–19). Solomon, admiring her beauty and intelligence, wishes to have a child by her and so invites her to a farewell banquet (20) at the end of her visit. During the feast, Solomon requests her to sleep with him (21). She refuses and asks him to swear not to take her by force; he agrees, but in return obtains her promise not to take anything from the palace (22).

The spicy food makes Makeda very thirsty in the middle of the night, so she sends her maid to fetch some water that Solomon had deliberately placed at his bedside. Solomon seizes the maid (23) and sleeps with her (24); their progeny would become Ethiopia’s Zagwe dynasty according to some legends. When her maid does not return, Makeda herself enters Solomon’s chamber to fetch the water, upon which Solomon confronts her and accuses her of breaking her oath not to take anything from the palace (25). Forced to release Solomon from his oath, she sleeps with him (26). The next morning, Solomon gives her a ring (27). During her stay at Solomon’s court, Makeda had begun to worship the God of Israel, and she decides to bring the new religion back to her country when she returns to Ethiopia (28).

Makeda and her maid bear sons (29). During a game of ganna (a form of hockey), some boys tease Menelik, Makeda’s son, about his parentage (30). Menelik questions his mother (31–32), and Makeda tells him about Solomon, gives him the ring and sends him to Jerusalem to be educated (33–35). Menelik visits Solomon (36) and frets his education (37), but he determines to return home, despite Solomon’s wish to make him king of Israel. Solomon asks his counsellors to send their first-born sons with Menelik. The high priest’s first-born son, however, is reluctant to leave behind the Ark of the Covenant (and thereby lose his future position as high priest), so Solomon has a replica made for him. Menelik and the high priest’s eldest son conspire to switch the replica for the real Ark. Thus the real Ark is taken to Ethiopia (38–39). (In panel 39, the central figure, whose face is slightly visible between the two other figures, carries the covered Ark on his head.) Makeda receives the Ark (40) and places it in a temple built for it, which later becomes the Church of Mary Zion in Aksum. Makeda makes Menelik king (41–42), and, after her death (43), Menelik erects stelae in Aksum (44). The Lion of Judah, a symbol for Queen Makeda, appears in many panels.