Political changes in the Middle East during the 19th century — particularly 1831
accession of Mohammed Ali in Egypt when access/travel/opportunities/dialogue
with the West was opened up. Although Ottomon Empire reabsorbed Egypt at the end
of his rule, the openness remained and there was greater contact between Europe
and the East in terms of colonization, investment (think-link the Suez Canal)
and tourism (think-link Thomas Cook tours).
Carol divides these into three artistic themes:
Colonization & appropriation
Variation if picturesque, poeticized by
face of materialism & scientific/historic
David Roberts, Cairo Looking West, (c.1840s?)
Who were the market for these images? Firstly through dealers — Ernest Gambart
specialized in pictures from the Orient.
David Roberts, General View of the Island of Philae, Nubia, 1843Lithograph
These paintings were very good to be turned into lithographs — strong details in
elements such as architecture, clear and strong tonal contrasts. David Roberts
published his Middle East pictures in six volumes:
The Holy Land: Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt &
David Roberts, View of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, 1839
All these images are about colonization —
Europe has a post-enlightenment, post-industrial economy which we bring to the
East because it does not have them. The East is represented here by images of
the past — old buildings, ruins, traditional costumes. Seen as �primitive�
(ALWAYS write these in inverted commas!), pagan, lazy, passive (think-link
Delacroix�s Women of Algiers — though not, of course, a landscape).
�Splendid cities once teeming with a busy
population and embellished with temples and edifices, the wonder of the world,
now deserted and lonely, or reduced by mismanagement and the barbarism of the
Muslim creed to a state as savage as wild animals by which they are surrounded.
Often have I gazed on them till my heart actually sickened within me.�
It�s all there — mismanagement, barbarism, savage. As such, we therefore have a
right to appropriate, justification for colonization, moral duty to save.
Edward Said�s Orientalism is the bible of
this theory. About creating an opposite, an �other�, a reverse description of
ourselves. It is not about imaging the real East.
However, Maryanne Stephens in her book The
Orientalists prefers to think that images of the east is �closer
to a dialogue�.. than a discourse.� She challenges Said�s view and
proposes that art and artists were affected by what they saw and what they
produced reflected this.
The East as an aesthetic, picturesque,
pleasure site. Stephens says that the landscape of the East does not conform to
European conventions of landscape painting. What you see is basically a subject
surrounded by barren waste. Thus new forms of landscape painting are needed. See
how Roberts� picture curves round, almost a fish-eye effect.
David Roberts, General View of the Island of Philae, Nubia, 1843
Edward Lear�s A View of Philae tries to
use picturesque conventions — trees to each side, foreground-middleground-background,
soft European light, hills in the distance — don�t quite ring true.
Edward Lear, A View of Philae
However, Lewis� The Caravan-An Arab Encampment
at Edfou, 1861 and Seddon�s Dromedary &
Arabs at the City of the Dead with the Tomb of Sultan El Barkook in the
Background 1853-6 have found a different light and attempted to deal with
the reality — the brightness of the light, the flatness of the scenery, the
strong purple in the shadows.
Seddon was an associate of the PRB, a student of Holman Hunt. Note the very
detailed, specificity of the title. This is a symptom of the
recording of actuality. Itemising the
past, almost visual archaeology. There is a letter from Hunt when he was there
about artists going out two by two to bring back the passing/facing/soon to be
Thomas Seddon, Jerusalem and the Valley of Jehoshaphat from the Hill of Evil
Counsel , 1854-5
Not the minute detail but this is not mimesis, not straightforward
transcription. We still have the idle figure of colonization but also the strong
purple of the shadows (the eastern light), the intensity of shadow have affected
the composition aesthetically and finally the tradition and ancient monument
have been faithfully recorded. But not always��.. romanticism of Seddon�s
pyramids versus Hunt�s acid green and purples:
Thomas Seddon, Pyramids at Giza-Sunset Afterglow, 1856
Holman Hunt, The Great Pyamid, 1854
The Great Sphinx at the Pyramids of Giza,
by Thomas Seddon, (1821-1856), 1854, watercolor and body color, 9 3/4 x 13 7/8.
Collection Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, England.
See how the two handle the Sphinx (can�t find images). Hunt�s rendition has
typically low viewpoint for the background with soaring sand dunes high behind
the sphinx head. Seddon views the sphinx from above, like an archaeologist. Hunt
hardly shows the sphinx�s face — just a slim line of shadow, concentrating
instead on the geological strata of the rock. Seddon is pure recording of the
features. In the rocks around the base of the sphinx Hunt has put a snake�. What
is it doing there? No-one knows. Hunt says �cos it just happened to be there.
Traditionally a snake is an emblem of triumph over evil — triumph of reason
(science) over superstition? Christianity over paganism?
Hunt�s The Afterglow in Egypt, 1854 sums
up how he felt��. The last moments of a once glorious civilization. Hunt
actually referred to his travels as time travel�.. a common perception of going
back in time when traveling to the Orient.
Of course the recording/visual archaeology themes of artistic endeavour in the
Middle East were also to do with searching for empirical evidence for Christian
Belief. Uniting science and religion. The Holy Land was the source. In his
religious symbolism, Holman Hunt found a way of creating a new visual language
for the Anglican, protestant ethos. Think of The
Finding of the Saviour in the Temple (not strictly a landscape) but
The Scapegoat, 1855:
Read BOIME on Scapegoat.
He also paints the extraordinary �The Triumph of the Innocents� 1875-84 which also, for all its
allegory, is based in realism. In fact, tho many of Hunt�s stories are
unreliable, the escape of his wife and young child in the middle of the night on
a donkey is true.
Finally, let us take a look at James Jacques Joseph Tissot. Most unusual,
Tissot’s reputation has so firmly come to rest on the artist’s depictions of the
stylish leisured class of the late-nineteenth century that the religious works
of his late career – illustrations of the life of Christ – are little known.
However, at the turn of the century, these biblical images were considered his
greatest achievement due, on one hand, to the popularity of images from the Near
East and, on the other hand, to the sense of immediacy Tissot gave to an age-old
tale through uncompromising attention to detail. The Journey of the Magi was
created after the second of three trips that the artist made to Palestine
between 1886 and 1896 to gather sketches and photographs of the people,
costumes, topography, and light of the region.
Tissot, Journey of the Magi, 1894
Lewis went to Cairo in 1841 and remained there for ten years. During that time
he travelled throughout Egypt. After his return to Britain, his Egyptian
provided material for his
including this view of the ruins at Edfu, between Luxor and Aswan. English
visitors to Egypt reported that Lewis had “gone native”, living in luxury in the
Arab quarter of Cairo and wearing Islamic dress. His work shows his strong
fascination with contemporary Egyptian culture, rather than the ancient remains.
The focus on contemporary figures and animals in this work is typical.
This was the first major painting Hunt made during his first stay in the Holy
Land. He had the idea for the picture while studying the Talmud (the collection
of ancient Rabbinic writings that forms the basis of religious authority in
Orthodox Judaism) for information on Jewish ritual for his painting ‘The Finding
of the Saviour in the Temple�. Hunt’s researches disclosed that on the Festival
of the Day of Atonement, a goat was ejected from the temple with a scarlet piece
of woolen cloth on its head. It was goaded and driven, either to death or into
the wilderness, carrying with it the sins of the congregation. It was believed
that if these sins were forgiven the scarlet cloth would turn white. Hunt
regarded the Old Testament scapegoat as a prefigurement of the New Testament
Christ whose suffering and death similarly expunged man’s sins.
In the Book of Leviticus (which is quoted on the frame) the goat is said to bear
the iniquities into a land that was not inhabited. Hunt chose to set his goat in
a landscape of quite hideous desolation – it is the shore of the Dead Sea at
Osdoom with the mountains of Edom in the distance. In his diary Hunt described
this setting as ‘a scene of beautifully arranged horrible wilderness’ and he saw
the Dead Sea as a ‘horrible figure of sin’, believing as did many at this time
that it was the original site of the city of Sodom.
Seeing for the first time the extraordinary sight of the Dead Sea decided him to
tackle the subject himself. Hunt returned to the edge of the sea with guides and
spent about two weeks painting in the landscape and making sketches and notes.
He took a white goat with him but he left blank that part of the picture that
the animal occupies and did not paint the beast until he returned to his
Jerusalem studio. Whilst at Osdoom, Hunt’s life was at risk from hostile
tribesmen. The insistence of his guides that they get away from this dangerous
spot led to his leaving earlier than he wished. He took back samples of mud and
salt to help him finish the foreground. In Jerusalem Hunt also bought or
borrowed sheep and goat skulls and a full camel skeleton.
When this picture was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1856 it met with a cool
critical response. Even Ruskin, who devoted a lengthy entry in his ‘Academy
Notes’ to the picture, thought the choice of a goat as subject was rather
misplaced. He also thought it poorly painted. The critic of ‘The Athenaeum’
dismissed the work and on a curiously prophetic note added,
‘We shudder, however, in
anticipation of the dreamy fantasies and the deep allegories that will be
deduced from this figure of a goat in difficulty.’
Hunt’s lurid colouring is far from natural. Allen Staley writing on Hunt’s
landscape painting perceptively comments that
‘Hunt may have painted what he saw,
but by choice he saw strange things, and he saw them at their most vivid pitch.’
The strident high-keyed purple which here bathes the mountains of Edom
subsequently became the hallmark of much of his landscape painting.
Copyright 2005, Ms S. Sharpe