When Scottish painter David Roberts toured Egypt and the Levant from 1838-1839, its scenery and monuments had been largely unexamined by British artists. Arriving in Alexandria, he traveled up the Nile for eleven months before journeying to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Returning by way of Beirut, he brought with him hundreds of watercolor sketches that became the basis for his magnum opus, The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia.
Published by subscription between 1842 and 1849, the multi-volume travelogue contained 250 lithographs by Louis Haghe, whom the Metropolitan Museum of Art describes as “the best and most prolific lithographer of his time.” In his Travel in Aquatint and Lithography, 1770-1860, art historian John Roland Abbey calls Holy Land “one of the most important and elaborate ventures of nineteenth-century publishing” and “the apotheosis of the tinted lithograph.”
Having spent much of his early career as a theatrical scene painter, it came naturally to Roberts to depict Egypt and the Levant in their picturesque ideal. Published shortly before photographs of the same sites became available to the public, his images represented a romantic first glimpse of ancient civilizations that would continue fascinate European artists and writers for generations.