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Plate 51 Engedi, convent of St Saba - After David Roberts
  • Plate 51 Engedi, convent of St Saba - After David Roberts

    This magnificent covent built into the side of cliff clearly impressed Roberts. Writing in his journal on the 3rd of April 1839, the artist said 'after travelling about two hours [we] reached the convent of St. Saba, situated on the brink of a ravine through which the brook flows, and which is so deep that even at mid-day the sun's rays never find their way down. All the rocks bordering this valley are perforated with cells of achorites. The convent consists of a cluster of buildings on the face of the rock, and contains several chapels. The brotherhood is of the Greek persuasion, and number about thirty-five monks, who dress the same as those of Mount Sinai.' [1] Then writing on the 4th and 5th April he said 'On looking from the heights above down on the convent, one could scarcely believe that it could possess so many comforts and conveniences within its walls' [2]


    'Built against the stark rock walls of the gorge dug out by the Kidron River as it flows toward the Dead Sea, the Monastery of St. Saba is a place set aside for isolation and prayer admist the silent desolation of the desert, a few miles southeast of Jerusalem. Founded in A.D. 492, but destroyed by the Arabs during the seventh century, the Monastery was quickly rebuilt in a radical new version; John of Damascus was ordained a priest here, and he wrote his fundamental theological treatises here. The architectural complex, whose most noteworthy features are the cupolas, painted bright blue, and the enormous enclosure wall, is clearly a piece of defensive construction; the walls are very thick and are well arrayed, the windows are little more than loopholes, and the entrances are narrow and low, and are girded with stout portals. Inside, the relics of St. Saba are preserved; they were brought here from Venice in 1965, after being held there for more than seven centuries. As it was when David Roberts toured it, the Monastery is now run by the Greek Orthofox monks, who forbid women from entering there. In Roberts's journal, his first view of and approach to this remarkable monument is described in terms of hushed wonder: aside from the inevitable considerations on the the remarkable architecture of the place, the [Scottish] artist notes that he was pleasantly surprised at the cordial hospitality of the monks and at the astonishing comforts the Monastery yielded. Walls and floors were covered with thick carpets, the air was cool and healthful, and the local wine - made from grapes perhaps harvested from terraces dug into the rocky wall - was pleasing to the palate.' [3]


    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 November 1842.


    Medium: Original First Edition, Full-Plate hand-coloured lithograph on thick woven paper.


    Full Plate 38.


    Inscribed on lithograph l.l. 'Convent of St Saba, april 4th 1839' and 'David Roberts R.A.', 35 x 50.2cm (picture size), framed.


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




    [1] David Roberts Journal, 3rd April 1839. 


    [2] Ibid., 4th and 5th April 1839.


    [3] Fabio Bourbon (ed). Yesterday and Today: The Holy Land. Swan Hill Press: London, 1997, p.153. Translated by Antony Shugaar.


    Condition report: the lithograph is in good condition for its age. There is some time staining and small scattered foxing. Please see photographs.

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