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Plate 104 The Ravine, Petra - After David Roberts
  • Plate 104 The Ravine, Petra - After David Roberts

    This magnificent depiction of Petra was drawn by Roberts on the 10th March 1839. The artist and his travelling group reached the city on the 6th and he wrote in his journal 'To-day we encamped in the centre of the remains of this extraordinary city, which is situated in the midst of mountains, surrounded by the desert, but abounding in every vegetable production. Our sheikh had endeavoured to persuade us to leave our camels and baggage behind us, and go alone with him into Petra, that we might the more easily get away if the Fellaheens came upon us. This we refused to do, and getting all the caravan in motion, we began to ascend the mountain by a path along verge of a deep ravine, filled with oleander and laurel.' [1] Then writing again on the 10th March, Roberts said 'Heavy rain to-day, notwithstanding whcih I have made several sketches of this extraordinary place.' [2]  Roberts was clearly very impressed with Petra using 'extraordinary on multiple occasions.


    'Located in the southern Transjordan, Petra is mentioned several times in the Bible by the name of Sela, while the Arabs refer to it as Wadi Mousa, i.e. the Valley of Moses. Although the earliest habitations in the area date from the Iron Age, the city became important when the Nabateans occupied the region, during the period of Persian rule. Setting up their stronghold high atop one of the rocky spurs in the area, the Nabateans managed to hold against the attempt by Antigonus I of Syria, in 312 B.C., to take the place by storm. Petra developed as a rock city at the intersection of three mountain gorges. Later it became a centre offering haven and defence for the local nomadic  populations.


    The decision by the Nabeteans to choose Petra as their capital was therefore based on considerations of security. Hidden as it was in the mountains, with a very few, easily guarded points of access, Petra constituted a secure safeguard for the wealth that the Nabateans had accumulated with their caravan trade. The ease of communications with the Red Sea made it possible for the Nabeteans to trade extensively with Arabia and with Mesopotamia, while the track through the Negev Desert to Gaza gave them access to the Mediterranean and to Syria. The continuing development of major trade routes and the growing prosperity of the Nabateans themselves led to the growth of Petra, and to its eventual Hellenization. In particular, during the first century A.C., the Nabatean kings embellished the town with splendid monuments, most of which were carved into the living rock. Roman occupation and the creation of the Arabian province slowed the development of Petra, but failed to halt it entirely. In the third century A.D., however, with the transfer of the Nabatean capital to Bosra, and the growth of the new caravan centres, such as Gerasa and Palmyra, in particular, the importance of Petra declined greatly, even though Emperor Hadrian bestowed upon the town the honour of the title of "metropolis."


    For a number of centuries, the rock-cut city continued to be a major power, the see of a bishop, and, following the reorganisation of the empire at the order of Diocletian, the capital of the province of Plaestina Taertia. After the Arab conquest, however, Petra declined greatly, though it was fortified and inhabited by the Crusaders. Following the thirteenth century, it was abandoned, and all knowledge of Petra was lost until the beginning of the nineteenth century.' [3]


    The drawings and watercolours from this sketching tour by David Roberts of the Holy Land and Egypt were collated together into folios and released over a seven year period between 1842 and 1849 by the publisher F.G. Moon from 20 Threadneedle Street London. This lithograph is an original First Edition version and was published on the 1st October 1842. Louis Haghe (the Belgian lithographer and friend of Roberts) oversaw and produced all of the lithographs for this series.


    Medium: Original First Edition Lithograph, Full Plate, with later hand colouring on thick woven paper.


    Full Plate 104.


    Inscribed l.r. 'PETRA march 10th 1839' and 'David Roberts', 50 x 32.7cm (picture size), framed.


    Provenance: Storey's Ltd, Fine Rare Antique Prints & Maps dealer, 3 Cecil Court London.




    [1] David Roberts' Journal, 6th March 1839.


    [2] Ibid., 10th March 1839.


    [3] Fabio Bourbon (ed). Yesterday and Today: The Holy Land. Swan Hill Press: London, 1997, p.74. Translated by Antony Shugaar.


    Condition report: generally in very good condition. There are a few scattered foxing marks and time staining due to age. Please see photographs. The frame shows some wear.

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