Dromos, or outer Court of the Great Temple at Edfou in Upper Egypt

Dromos, or outer Court of the Great Temple at Edfou in Upper Egypt by David Roberts, RA 1796-1864. Dated 1840 and inscribed 'EDFOU, UPPER EGYPT'. 43 1/2 x 56 inches, 110 x 142 cm. Signed, inscribed and dated in the artist's hand verso:

The Temple of Edfou in Upper EGYPT. Relined & touched upon 1854 David Roberts R.A. Painted for Frank Hall Standish Esqre of Duxbury Park. Lancashire. who on his death at CADIS in 1841 bequeathed his Pictures to H. M. LOUIS PHILIP KING of THE FRENCH. when this with others was placed in THE PALACE OF THE LOUVRE. where it remained until the death of THE KING OF THE FRENCH in 1850 when they were restored to his Family & by them SOLD at CHRISTIE'S in 1853. where it was bought by its present possessor E. Gambert Esq'

Inscribed in another hand verso:

'Bought of T. AGNEW & SONS from the collection of Kirkman Hodgson Esqre of Ashgrove, Sevenoaks, Kent, and sold to the present proprietor Henry Milnes Rait for Mrs. Rait nee Christine Bicknell, granddaughter of the artist.'

Commentary by Hilary Morgan

Roberts left Cairo in October 1838 to travel up the Nile in a hired boat with its crew and his servant; his practice was to visit and sometimes survey the ruined temples on his way'up and to make his main drawings on the way back. At Edfou, which he first saw on 26th October, he and a friend walked five miles to the site from the river bank; he wrote in his journal:

'The two propylons of the great temple were in sight the whole way and appeared as though placed on a height; this is solely owing to their size and to the smallness of everything around them except the palm trees. Their height is about one hundred feet. On entering the village and winding our way through the wretched hovels by which it is blocked up, for the very roof with these dismal looking dens... and as for the picturesque colouring of weather stains, which we painters delight in, it is unknown ... I stood at last in front of the most beautiful Temple in Egypt ... In every situation in which it is viewed it is a picture. It has breadth in all its parts, the pillars are large, massy and in form exquisite. Though half buried it is more beautiful than if laid open and reminds me of Piranesi etchings of the Forum in Rome ... The Facade or Portico of the Pronos is the most exquisite in form I have ever seen and every capital being different does not take from its beauty but in my opinion rather enhances it. The Colonnade runs entirely around the Dromos, with every pillar different; and although much defaced and mutilated it is even in its ruin beautiful...'

Roberts spent two days at Edfou and in that time made enough studies to prepare drawings for four lithographs, for the two known oils and for an unknown number of unfinished water-colours.

William Brockedon in the notes to the lithograph (Volume 1, Egypt and Nubia, plate 32) wrote:

This view, taken from beneath the entrance of the portico, and looking across the grand peristyle court of the Temple to the back of the great propylon, is one ofstriking magnificence; it embraces the whole court; and the propylon, in noble proportion, seems to shut out the very sky towards the entrance. The cloistered corridor within the court, covered with the painted hieroglyphics, offered its shelter from an Egyptian sun to the priests and those permitted to enter the sacred precincts...'

Amelia Edwards, in A Thousand Miles up the Nile, published in 1887 (reprinted in 1888), wrote:'Ten years ago, nothing was visible of the great Temple of Edfoo save the tops of these pylons. The rest of the building was as much lost to sight as if the earth had opened and swallowed it. Its courtyards were choked with foul debris. Its sculptured chambers were buried under forty feet of soil. Its terraced roof was a maze of closely-packed huts, swarming with human beings, poultry, dogs, kine, asses and vermin...'

After leaving Edfou, Roberts returned to Cairo, where he stayed for three weeks, and then set off for Syria, Lebanon and the Holy Land, returning to England in October 1839. He at once found himself fully occupied; the watercolours of his Eastern tour were exhibited in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow, where they were received with much acclaim. This was to obtain' subscriptions for the forthcoming publication of the lithographs, to be issued in monthly parts, later. bound in to volumes- by their owners. Roberts redrew all the two hundred and forty-eight subjects for his lithographer, Louis Haghe; it was their publications which brought him fame, and he is still best known by them to this day.

The year after his return, 1840, he had five oil paintings of eastern subjects at the Royal Academy, one being 'Dromos, or outer Court of the Great Temple at Edfou in Upper Egypt'. He went on using his eastern material for many years to come, the last oil of Baalbek being painted in 1857.

The Art Journal for 1840 noted that the five works at the Academy: 'Are all pictures of high merit, and of great interest, as introducing us to scenes comparatively new to art.', while the Athenaeum reserved its detailed and glowing comments for the Baalbec (Royal Academy, 1840, number 944) bought by Elhanan Bicknell and now at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. 'This artist...' wrote the Athenaeum critic, 'has returned from Egypt and Syria with his portfolio full of such scenes as those regions alone can furnish. He travelled from Cairo up the Valley of the Nile, tracing, as he went, the architecture of the eldest-born of nations, delineating it as it stands, with the varied colours upon it, which three thousand years have not been able to remove. He has taken architecture when it seems to have been in its grand infancy among the rocks of Nubia ... The drawings (i.e. the oils) of Bethlehem, of Cairo, of the great Temple at Edfou, Memnon and the Plains of Thebes - and this, the Ruins of Baalbek, are of equal interest.' -- Helen Guiterman, May 1989.

Provenance: Frank Hall Standish, 1840; H. M. Louis Philip, King of France, 1841; The Artist's Family, 1850; Their sale Christie's, 1853 to Ernest Gambert; Kirkman Hodgson, Esq. (?); Mrs Henry Milnes Rait (nee Christine Bicknell), granddaughter of the artist; By descent to Mrs F. Middleton (1874); And thence to the present owner.

Exhibited: London, Royal Academy, 1840, number 292 Paris, Standish Gallery at the Louvre, 1842-8, number 237. London, London International Exhibition, 1874, number 177, (Possibly this work). London, David Roberts, The Barbican Art Gallery, November 1986 - January 1987, number 124. Scottish Arts Council. Birmingham City Art Gallery.

References

Morgan, Hilary and Nahum, Peter. Burne-Jones, The Pre-Raphaelites and Their Century. London: Peter Nahum, 1989. Catalogue number 6.

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Last modified 21 December 2001