If any one man can be held responsible for our obsession with ancient Egypt, it is surely David Roberts RA. In 1838 the Scottish artist set out on a four-month tour down the Nile from Cairo to Abu Simbel, sketching the antiquities. Like glittering mirages, his images of temples all but buried in sand caught – and have never quite released – the imagination of the public.
Now a rare and almost complete exhibition of Roberts’ hand-coloured lithographs from the definitive 1846-49 subscription edition published by FG Moon & Son is about to be unveiled in London, at Henry Sotheran’s antiquarian bookshop, off Piccadilly. It includes romantic but architecturally accurate images that capture the scale of the temples of Karnak and the mystery swirling about Edfou.
Visiting the store for more conventional purposes last week, I discovered Roberts’ work being prepared for exhibition – and was sufficiently overcome with Egyptophila to have pledged to buy two half-plates. Which leaves me in interesting company: the original subscribers included Queen Victoria, Charles Dickens and half the crowned heads of Europe.
First picture shows front elevation of the Great Temple of Aboo Simbel, Nubia; full-plate (sold). Second picture: portico of the Temple of Edfou, Upper Egypt; full-plate (£2,415). Third picture: statues of Memnon at Thebes, during the inundation; full-plate (£2,590).