Sotheby’s auction of maps and atlases time travels in Middle East - GulfToday

Sotheby’s auction of maps and atlases time travels in Middle East

Makkah art 1

Makkah and Medina, watercolour and gouache views, 1840.

Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer

Open for bidding now (online auction: Apr. 27 - May 13), Sotheby’s Travel, Atlases, Maps and Natural History auction features rare highlights from Middle Eastern history, including an engraving from 1791, showing a panoramic view of Makkah. Measuring 430 x 865 mm, the engraving — the largest of its kind produced at the time — depicts pilgrims from as far as the mountain of Arafat arriving for the Hajj, charting their journey into the holy city. The print has long been considered unobtainable, with very few copies appear to have survived a fire in Pera in 1791. The engraving carries an estimate of £12,000 -18,000. Works of topography through the ages abound, from early accounts of travels in the Near and Middle-East (Nicolay’s Navigations, peregrinations and voyages made into Turkie, 1596) to a photographic record of travels in Tibet and Lhasa, made in the 1930s.


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Egypt is well represented by two famous works: a tinted set of Roberts’s The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia, and Maxime du Camp’s rare Egypte, Nubie, Palestine et Syrie from 1852, one of the earliest books to include a substantial collection of original photographs of Egypt and Palestine. Nicolas de Nicolay, geographer to Henri II of France, travelled to Turkey with French Ambassador Gabriel d’Aramon, in 1550. Along the way, they visited Malta, shortly after the Turkish attack that ended with the loss of Gozo. The Ambassador tried to persuade them to abandon their assault on Tripoli, but was instead forced to witness the siege and fall, before he was permitted to leave.

The inveterately inquisitive Nicolay describes the places, dangers and curious customs they met on their long journey, then goes on to describe Constantinople, its people and practices, from bathing to wrestling, from the Children of Tribute to the messengers who ran, shod with iron, outpacing horses. The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt, and Nubia was a travelogue of 19th century Palestine and the magnum opus of Scottish painter David Roberts. It contained 250 lithographs by Louis Haghe of Roberts’s watercolour sketches and was first published by subscription between 1842 and 1849, in two separate publications: The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea and Arabia and Egypt and Nubia.

middle east art 2 Maxime Du Camp’s Egypte, Nubie, Palestine et Syrie.

Described as “one of the art-publishing sensations of the mid-Victorian period,” it exceeded all other earlier lithographic projects in scale, and was one of the most expensive publications of the nineteenth century. Maxime du Camp’s mission to Egypt and the Near East in 1849-51 to make a photographic survey of monuments and sites is well documented in his writings and in those of his fellow traveler, Gustave Flaubert. After an initial stay in Cairo, the two friends hired a boat to take them up the Nile as far as the second cataract, after which they descended the river at leisure, exploring the archaeological sites along its banks. In 1850, they left Egypt for Palestine, Turkey and Greece before they parted in Italy, the following April.

Du Camp’s album Egypte, Nubie, Palestine et Syrie, published in 1852 and containing 125 photographs printed by Blanquart-Evrard, brought its author instant fame.

In addition to the published edition, Du Camp arranged for a private printing of a few portfolios, which numbers 174 images, noteworthy for their warm colour and luminescence. A journalist with no experience in photography, he learned the craft shortly before his departure for Egypt. Sotheby’s is hosting a finely bound copy of Du Camp’s pioneering photobook on Egypt, Palestine and Syria, made up of 125 exquisite salt prints showing views of Egypt, Jerusalem and Baalbek (estimate £100,000 – 150,000).

The wildly successful work remains his first and last foray into photography, as at the end of his trip he traded his photographic equipment for large quantities of fine wool and silk. The photographs were taken when Du Camp was twenty seven years old. Also on offer are two watercolour and gouache views of Makkah from circa 1840, showing the Kaaba and the Masjid al-Haram as well as Medina (estimate £5,000 – 10,000). Paintings of Medina in this panoramic style are rarely seen on the market. Although Mecca and Medina are often depicted alongside one another in prayer books like the Dala-il al-Khayrat, it is unusual to see them painted on this scale as a pair of paintings.

Other highlights include a finely-coloured copy of Georg Braun and Franz Hogenberg’s first five town books, the most famous of the early town atlases and one of the best-selling works in the last quarter of the 16th century.

A hand-printed Japanese scroll, depicting twelve different types of whales with detailed notes on them, is also up for sale. It includes illustrations of whaling boats and eight different types of harpoons, together with a scene of whale catching, decorated with gold leaf. Rare and unseen photographs of Tibet and Lhasa (two albums of Tibet, with diary transcript and related material), by Ken Shepheard and Archie Jack of the Royal Engineers documenting their visit in 1938, are also on for sale.

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