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Ancient Egypt through the eyes of an 18th century artist

Posted on March 30, 2020 at 2:25 PM by Allison Sheridan

Exploring the world of the Ancient Egyptians through the eyes of an 18th century artist – this print is one of many highlights of the current exhibition Creating a Global Understating. Though the exhibition is currently closed, learn more about this permanent collection print below.

Egypt, with its exotic and fantastical ancient temples and tombs, has long been a subject matter for historians, archeologists, and artists alike. The land of the pyramids, sphinx, and hypostyle halls with towering columns, intrigued ancient Greek historians such as Herodotus and motivated expeditions led by Napoleon and many explorers to follow. The allure of these lands also inspired artist David Roberts to document his journey in 1838 down the Nile River and across the sand strewn realm nearly a century before Howard Carter, funded by the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, began his expeditions eventually discovering the famous tomb of King Tut.

In his day, Roberts was a well-respected practicing artist before launching his 11-month journey to Egypt and the Holy Land making on-site drawings and paintings. After his return to London, the works of art he created were skillfully turned into lithographs by Louis Haghe (Belgian, 1806–1885) and published by F. G. Moon in multiple series from 1842 to 1849 including the three volume Egypt & Nubia series, which this work of art is part of.

This lithograph finely represents the Hathor Temple at the Dendera Temple Complex in Egypt near the modern Nile River town of Dendera (Dandarah). The hypostyle hall pictured in this print, a roofed structure supported by massive carved columns, was built in the Roman period under Tiberius (42–37 BCE) and Queen Cleopatra VII (69–30 BCE). The temple was dedicated to the goddess Hathor often referred to as the “mistress of the sky”. There were many smaller temples dedicated to Hathor, however this temple in her honor was certainly the most prominent and is today considered by many one of the finest temples in Egypt.

In this print, you can see the depiction of Hathor’s face as the capital to each of the columns, the notable feature chosen by Roberts to set the scene. Those columns are in reality 56 feet high and would have been richly painted in blues, reds, greens and yellows. Upon closer inspection, the lithograph has carried through some of the blue tinting to represent the colors present on the actual temple. Likely the blue coloration used on the temple was Egyptian blue, which is considered to be the oldest synthetically produced pigment in the world and also the most commonly used blue pigment in ancient Egypt.

Archeologist, Egyptologists, conservators and scientists continue to study the temple complex at Dendera unraveling the meaning and secrets held within its walls. Although much of the pigment on the exterior has been deteriorated by the elements, richly carved and colored interior rooms, columns, and ceilings remain for visitors to experience today. Roberts’s skillful ability to capture many of the ancient sites in detail has helped to preserve and document the art and designs of ancient Egypt. The images Roberts painted create a snapshot in time, enabling scholars to catalog the changes since the 1830s when he explored and diligently documented the architecture.

View from under the portico of the Temple of Dendera, 1848. From D. Roberts, Egypt & Nubia, London 1846–49, vol. II, plate 69. By David Roberts (Scottish, 1796–1864). Gift of Bertha and Edward Waldee. In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. UM86.580

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