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Friday May 26, 2017
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David Roberts

 

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the U-M's Kelsey Museum.

Just before the flowering of the photographic travelogue, Roberts was one of the first intrepid European artists to travel to the Near East, making countless sketches along the way. Taking advantage of Victorian wanderlust and the mass-communication properties of lithography, Roberts sold prints of his drawings to avid armchair tourists hooked on the irresistible exoticism of the "Orient."

In General View of the Convent of St. Catherine, Mount Sinai (1839) - the newest addition to the Kelsey's modest Roberts archive and the impetus behind the current exhibition - the convent fits snug as a puzzle piece into a soaring mountain valley reminiscent of monumental Chinese landscapes. Statuesque cypress trees echo the geologic formations above. A second, much smaller print of St. Catherine's provides a sweeping horizontal view of the site, which has been extensively studied and documented by Kelsey-affiliated archaeologists. Loosely rendered figures in bright costumes travel in small caravans or pose in artificial, theatrical clusters to suggest movement and scale.

On an adjacent wall is Roberts's double portrait vignette of the Statues of Memnon, Thebes (1838) depicting King Amenhotep III. The colossal seated sentinels guard the plain in bright sunlight, dividing the panoramic image in two. Placing the viewer at ground level with deep shadow ahead, Roberts heightens the drama and grandeur of the scene.

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