‘In this illustrious piece of architecture, the artist has introduced a feeling, poetry and effect, which are among the highest attributes of genius. And yet every figure and feature of the scene are studied with the most perfect accuracy. The sun sets on the Libyan hills and, on the lower grounds, tinging them with a pervading glow of ruddy light, which is marvellously beautiful; and on the left is a sheet of water, deliciously reflecting the cool against the warm colour, and hemmed in by straight lines, so as to be as fine a contrast to the rugged and irregular shapes of the mountains. A splendid work.’ (Literary Gazette, 10 May 1845, p. 298)
In 1845 when his reputation was at its zenith, Roberts exhibited the present picture, one of his largest paintings to be shown at the Royal Academy. Its full title was given in the catalogue, Ruins of the Great Temple of Karnak, in Upper Egypt, Looking Towards the Libyan Chain of Hills, Called Baban el Malouk (the Gate of the Kings) in which the Excavated Tombs of the King of Thebes — Sunset. “Karnac is one of the Five Great Temples still Left of Thebes, the Ancient Capital of Upper Egypt. Profane History is Silent in Respect to it, and Records Only its Capture by Cambyses, King of Persia, son of Cyrus the Great, in the Year 526 B.C., and of its Final Destruction by Ptolomy Lathyrus, After a Protracted Siege of Three Years, 81 B.C. More Great Temple of Karnak
David Roberts RA (b Stockbridge [now a district of Edinburgh], 24 Oct. 1796; d London, 25 Nov. 1864). Scottish painter. He was apprenticed to a house painter, then worked as a scene painter for theatres in Edinburgh and Glasgow. In 1822 he settled in London and worked at the Drury Lane Theatre with his friend Clarkson Stanfield. From 1833 he travelled widely in Europe and the Mediterranean basin and made a fortune with his topographical views.
He worked in oil and watercolour and published lavishly illustrated books, among them the six-volume Views in the Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia (1842–9). His work can be monotonous when seen en masse, but at his best he combines bold design with precise observation. More David Roberts…