In this painting, the dark entrance to the ancient Temple of Hathor at Dendera in Egypt seems to stretch endlessly into the half buried colossal building. Dramatic lighting increases further the effect of sublime grandeur. At the time the picture was painted Egypt was part of the Ottoman Empire, ruled from Constantinople, now Istanbul. The figures in the right foreground represent Ottoman officials who have come out for an opulent picnic. They are accompanied by enslaved Black people waiting on them.
David Roberts' visit to the Near East in 1838/9 to sketch archaeological remains and contemporary life was crucial in enhancing his career. Like other artists he depicted slavery in the region without compassion or any reflection on the recent legacy of slavery in his own nation. Instead - like the temple building - all figures in the painting are characterised as exotic, more primitive and fundamentally different to the world surrounding those who would have bought his work.
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: Fine Art
: The Temple of Dendera, Upper Egypt
: ROBERTS, David
: The Temple of Dendera, Upper Egypt.
On Display at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, Gallery 6
: 1841: Dendara (Dendera, Dendereh), Egypt, North Africa, Africa
: Given by Lord Winterstoke, 1910.