In the steps of the Prophets: The dissemination and reinterpretation of David Roberts’ Holy Lands sketches through the Shows of London


David Roberts
Holy Land
Dissolving Views
Royal Polytechnic Institution
Royal Academy

How to Cite

Brooker, J. “In the Steps of the Prophets: The Dissemination and Reinterpretation of David Roberts’ Holy Lands Sketches through the Shows of London”. Mutual Images Journal, no. 10, Dec. 2021, pp. 137-70, doi:10.32926/2021.10.bro.jerem.


The body of drawings and sketches created by the Scottish painter David Roberts (1796-1864) during his expedition to the Holy Lands in 1838-9 marked the high point of his professional career. This paper will look at the period after his return to Britain in July 1839, particularly to 1842. It will suggest that although Roberts was no doubt influenced by his Scottish Presbyterian upbringing, religious faith was not as central to his trip as has often been supposed. It was instead through the business acumen of his publisher F.G. Moon that this body of work came to be regarded not merely as an aesthetic achievement but as a cause célèbre. A skilful and coordinated marketing campaign elevated these drawings to the status of a pilgrimage; a contemplative journey through the sites of biblical antiquity. Through detailed analysis of contemporaneous accounts it will show how one of the costliest publications of the era was disseminated, passing from prestigious galleries and the libraries of a wealthy elite through a continuum of public art exhibitions and popular media including panoramas, dioramas and the newly-emerging field of dissolving views. This will provide a rare case study into the interconnectedness of London’s exhibition culture in the 1840s.


ALTICK, RICHARD D. (1978), The Shows of London. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press.

BALLANTINE, JAMES (1866), The life of David Roberts, R.A.: compiled from his journals and other sources. Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black.

BROOKER, JEREMY (2005), Paganini's Ghost: Musical resources of the Royal Polytechnic Institution (1838- 1881). In: Mervyn Heard - Ine van Dooren - Richard Crangle (eds), Realms of Light: Uses and perceptions of the Magic Lantern from the 17th to the 21st Century. Ripon: Magic Lantern Society, pp. 146-154.

BROOKER, JEREMY (2013), The Temple of Minerva. Magic and the Magic Lantern at the Royal Polytechnic Institution, London 1837-1901. Ripon: Magic Lantern Society.

BURFORD, ROBERT (1847), Description of a view of the city of Cairo, and the surrounding country: now exhibiting at the Panorama, Leicester Square; painted by the proprietor, Robert Burford, assisted by Mr. H.C. Selous, from drawings by D. Roberts. London: R. Burford.

BURRITT, AMANDA M. (2020), Visualising Britain's Holy Land in the Nineteenth Century. Cham, Switzerland: Springer Nature.

COLTRIN, CHRIS (2011), Picturing Political Deliverance: Three Paintings of the Exodus by John Martin, Francis Danby, and David Roberts. Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide 10/1, Spring.

FISCHER, JOHANN-CONRAD (1846), Notizen auf der Reise über Paris nach London, Leeds, Low-Moor, Sheffield und zurück im Sommer 1845. Schaffhausen.

GALLERY OF ILLUSTRATION (1850), The Route Of The Overland Mail To India, from Southampton to Calcutta. London: Atchley & Co.

GIEBELHAUSEN, MICHAELA (2006), Painting the Bible: Representation and Belief in Mid-Victorian Britain. Aldershot: Ashgate.

GUITERMAN, HELEN - BRIONY LLEWELLYN (eds) (1986). David Roberts. London: Phaidon Press and Barbican Art Gallery.

HORNE, REV. THOMAS HARTWELL (1836), Landscape Illustrations of the Bible: Consisting of Views of the Most Remarkable Places Mentioned in the Old and New Testament. London: John Murray.

HUHTAMO, ERKKI (2012), Illusions in Motion: Media Archaeology of the Moving Panorama and Related Spectacles. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

JONES, JOHN (1990), "David Roberts, a Victorian Traveller and Painter." In: Dennis Crompton - David Henry - Stephen Herbert (eds), Magic Images; the Art of Hand-Painted and Photographic Lantern Slides. London: Magic Lantern Society.

LAMBOURNE, LIONEL (1999), Victorian Painting. London: Phaidon Press.

MANCOFF, DEBRA N. (1999), David Roberts: Travels in Egypt and the Holy Lands. San Francisco: Pomegranate.

MOON, F.G. (1840), The Holy Land, Egypt, Arabia, and Syria, by D. Roberts... The Historical and Descriptive Notices by the Rev. George Croly, Etc. [A Catalogue of an Exhibition of Lithographs, Executed by Louis Haghe After Drawings by D. Roberts, and Prospectus of the Work]. London: F.G.Moon.

POWELL, JOHN HUDSON (1996), New light on Poole's Myrioramas. New Magic Lantern Journal 8/1, pp. 12-15.

PRICE, DAVID WALKER (2021), David Roberts Gallery. (accessed November 12, 2021).

ROBERTS, DAVID (1989). The Holy Land. 123 Coloured Facsimile Lithographs and the Journal from his visit to the Holy Land. London: Studio editions.

RODENBECK, JOHN (2001). Dressing Native. In: Paul Starkey - Janet Starkey (eds), Unfolding the Orient: travellers in Egypt and the Near East. Reading: Ithaca Press.

SIMS, KATHERINE (1984), David Roberts R.A. 1796-1864. London: Quartet Books.

TROMANS, NICHOLAS (ed.) (2008). The Lure of the East: British Orientalist Painting. London: Tate Publishing.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Copyright (c) 2022 Jeremy Brooker