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Plate 120 Principal Court of the Convent of St Catherine - After David Roberts
  • Plate 120 Principal Court of the Convent of St Catherine - After David Roberts

    Although the lithograph is inscribed with the date 17th February, it is likely that Roberts painted this composition two days after. In his journal on the 18th, the artist wrote 'started at 12 for the convent of St. Catherine, winding through a gloomy pass for about three hours. Night closed on us before we reached the convent. The effect of the the setting sun gilding the high peaks of the pass, while the ravine was a mass of shadow, far surpassed anything I had ever seen. About 7 o'clock we reached the convent. The only entrance is by an opening in the wall at the height of 30 feet, having a strong iron door, which, after considerable reconitering on the part of the monks, was unbolted, a light was lowered by a rope, and some faggots were thrown down to burn. These were kindled, and we were drawn up by the ropes, one by one, our elbows and knees receiving in transit many thumps and bumps. After being ushered through a long labyrinth of passages, we were received with great kindness by the superior. Supper of rice and dried dates was set before us, and never did poor pilgrim sleep more soundly than I did under the hospitable roof of the monks of St. Catherine, Mount Sinai'. [1] Continuing the following day Roberts said 'the convent is a large square enclosure, the walls and flanking towers built of hewn granite. Inside, it looks like a small town, for beside the appartments and store-houses there is a chapel and a mosque. The former is said to be built on the site of the burning bush, the latter erected by Mahomet, who gave the monks a written protection from his followers. The Mahometans and Christians here perform their ablutions and go through their favourite forms of worship in perfect harmony, and this has, perhaps, preserved the place more than the prophet's letter of protection.' [2]


    'In this illustration which shows the courtyard of the monastery, Roberts devotes special attention to the clothing of the monks. The abbot, the archbishop of Sinai, can be easily picked out from the crowd, as he is wearing a long black mantle, different from that of his brother monks. The garb worn by the entire community, in fact, was cut from a cloth made of camelhair and goat-hair, very similar to the clothing worn by Beduins; this cloth was made in the monastery.' [3] Even now this magnificent monastery is under the administration of the Greek-Orthodox Church with most of the monks being Greek Orthodox. They practice the tradition of St Basil the Great, the bishop of Caesarea who lived from A.D. 329 to 379. When Roberts visited, 'the monks, who never numbered more than twenty, saw to all their needs, and produced all the things that could be needed in that tiny universe. As the need arose, each monk became a carpenter, a woodsman, a tailor, a cobbler, a baker, and a chef. Most monks spent from three to five years at the Convent of St. Catherine, but some of the monks spent their entire lives there. The rules called for them to attend mass twice a day and never to eat meat. Roberts spent a great deal of time talking to the superior, an extremely learned and courteous individual, who had travelled extensively throughout Europe and to England; he had only the most pleasant memories of his travels.' [4]


    The drawings and watercolours from this tour by David Roberts of the Holy Land and Egypt were collated together into folios and released over a seven year period by the publisher F.G. Moon from 20 Threadneedle Street London. This lithograph is an original First Edition version published on the 1st January 1846.


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


    Full Plate 120.


    Inscribed l.l. 'David Roberts R.A.' and upper right 'Convent of St Catherine Mount Sinai Feby 17th 1839', 35.4 x 50.7cm, mounted.




    [1] David Roberts Journal, 19th February 1839.


    [2] Ibid., 20th February 1839.


    [3] Fabio Bourbon (ed). Yesterday and Today: The Holy Land. Swan Hill Press: London, 1997, p.58. Translated by Antony Shugaar.


    [4] Ibid.


    Condition report: the lithograph is in very good condition for its age. Very faint time staining marks. Overall an excellent example of this lithograph. There are a few small tears on the lithograph but these are hidden by the mount and cannot be seen.

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