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Plate 85 Bethlehem - After David Roberts
  • Plate 85 Bethlehem - After David Roberts

    After spending Easter in Jerusalem Roberts made his way towards Bethlehem. Writing in his journal on the 5th April after leaving the Convent of St Saba, the artist wrote 'set out on our way to Bethlehem, which we reached after a three hours'[sic] ride. Numerous flocks of sheep were to be seen on our way, and the immediate neighbourhood of the town abounds with fields of corn, olives, and fig-trees. The Church of the Nativity crowns the height on which the town is situated, and around it are the Latin, Greek, and Armenian convents. 


    The Church of the Nativity is in form similar to the Basicalla at Rome, with a double row of Corinthian columns supporting a wall, above which rises a timber roof. The wall is covered with scripitural subjects, most elaborately executed in mosaic, but much mutilated. A temporary screen divides the nave from the transepts and choir - in the latter of which is the Greek church, which seems nearly as old as the rest of the building. The transepts are occupited as chapels by the Latins and Armenians, and immediately below them is the Chapel of the Nativity, which is small, and, though hung with lamps, seems poor after that at Mount Sinai.' [1]


    The town of 'Bethlehem lies about five miles from Jerusalem, amidst countryside that yields such rich harvests that the area's original names was "Ephrata," or "fertile." Despite the historical prestige of the village, mentioned in ancient Hebrew history as the native home of the family of David, who was probably born there, it boasts no monuments or urban grandeur.' [2] With the birth of Christ in town it 'quickly became one of the holy places of Christianity, and the destination of endless pilgramages. As so often happens in the Holy Land, where history and religion overlap in a setting found nowhere else on earth, Bethlehem is not sacred only to Christians: the Jewish religion also holds the village sacred to the memory of Rachel, wife of the Patriarch Jacob, and archetype of the suffering of all Jewish mothers. Her tomb, just outside of the village, is the object of great veneration because it is considered a symbol of the redemption of Israel.' [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 Lithograph, with later hand-colouring on thick woven paper.


    Full Plate 85.


    Inscribed lower centre, 'David Roberts R.A.' and l.r. 'Bethlehem april 6th 1839', 35.5 x 51cm, mounted.




    [1] David Roberts Journal, 5th April 1839.


    [2] Fabio Bourbon (ed). Yesterday and Today: The Holy Land. Swan Hill Press: London, 1997, p.156. Translated by Antony Shugaar.


    [3] Ibid.


    Condition report: the lithograph is in very good condition for its age. There are some very faint foxing marks in the sky. Please see photographs.

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