David Roberts' Egypt & Nubia as Imperial Picturesque Landscape
This thesis examines and contextualises historically significant aspects of the ways in which David Roberts’ lucrative lithographic publication Egypt and Nubia (1846-49) represented the “Orient”. The analysis demonstrates that Roberts used tropes, particularly ruins and dispossessed figures, largely derived from a revised version of British picturesque landscape art, in order to depict Egypt as a developmentally poor state. By establishing how this imagery was interpreted in the context of the early Victorian British Empire, the thesis offers an elucidation of the connection between British imperial attitudes and the picturesque in Roberts’ work. The contemporary perception of Egypt and Nubia as a definitive representation of the state is argued to relate, not only to the utility of the picturesque as an “accurate” descriptive mode, despite its highly mediated nature, but also to the ways in which Britain responded to shifting political relationships with Egypt and the Ottoman Empire between 1830 and 1869. This political element of the research also suggests a more problematised reading of Robert’s work in relation to constructs of British imperialism and Edward Said’s theory of ‘Orientalism’, than has been provided by previous art historical accounts. A significant and innovative feature of the research is its focus on extensive analysis of textual descriptions of Egypt in early Victorian Britain and contemporary imperial historiography in relation to characteristics displayed in Roberts’ art. This offers a basis for a more specific, contextual understanding of Roberts’ work, as well as historically repositioning nineteenth-century British picturesque art practice and the visual culture of the early Victorian British Empire.