November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Art News: The Levant Exhibition

The Impressive Levant:

Orientalists’ Views

On September 23, 2012, the first sessions of the symposium on Orientalist Arts in Levant took place in the United Arab Emirates. The rare symposium of art historians occurred in concert with the Levant Exhibition inaugurated by His Highness Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the UAE Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah.

The exhibition included a selection from Al Qasimi’s collections among 171 lithographs by more than 30 orientalist artists from different European countries. The symposium was inaugurated by HE Abdullah Al Owais, President of the Department of Culture and Information, at the Department headquarters in Al Layah area. The inauguration was attended by Mr. Hisham Al Madhloum the Director of the Arts Directorate and a host of researchers,  art critics and historians, and visual arts lovers.

Al Owais said in his Opening speech, “The symposium highlights many aspects associated with orientalist art creativity in Levant. The research papers in this symposium have dealt with the most prominent features and historical eras related to orientalist arts, and analyzed the aesthetics, the approach and the printing techniques of the orientalist paintings.”

While many papers were presented at the Symposium, Ragazine.CC has selected one that appears to capture the essence of what the others explored in detail. We will be glad to share these with you upon request. E-mail

The first session was run by Dr. Abdel Karim Al sayed, included paper works and presentation for documentary film about lithography. Participating in this session were Yaser Al Dweik from Palestine; Dr. Maha Sultan from Lebanon; Dr. Sami bin Amer from Tunisia; and Abdullah Abu Rashid from Syria. The second and final session on the 24th, which took place at the Department of Culture and Information headquarters, included Abdel Karim Al Sayed from Palestine; Ghazi Eneem from Jordan; Mohammad Mahdy Hemaida from Eygpt, and Emad Al Armashi from Syria. We present Mr. Hemaida’s paper here.

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By Mohammad Mahdy Hemaida

The 19th century Orientalist paintings of the Levantine countries selected from the collection of His Highness Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the UAE Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, to be displayed in the Levant Exhibition provide specialists with a distinctive opportunity to have realistic visual records of places and life in this part of the world. Such records, produced using different artistic styles related to the Orientalism, opened a limitless horizon of visual details that could not be verbalized by passersby. Such richness in detail is only one of the things that gives these paintings their timeless appeal.

In essence, the Orientalist paintings were in general realistic mirroring of places at the time, capturing aspects of life of people and their traditions, nature, worship, sustenance and professions. This gives the paintings an additional role as documents recording the history of man and the environment in the region within their topographic setting, giving the place its distinctive features.



In the paintings of places in Palestine, we find a strong presence of famous towns as well as architectural and natural landmarks, including Jerusalem, Al Khalil (Hebron), Nazareth, Ramallah, Akka, Askalan, Gaza, Jaffa and Bethlehem. Among villages, valleys, oases and lakes, there are paintings of Tiberia (Sea of Galilee), Qarawa Oasis, Kidron Valley, Silwan Valley (siloam), Moriah Mountain, Olive Valley, Ain Hood Village near Carmel and Djebeah near Rihan Mountain. There are also other religious places such as Pulpit of Omar Mosque, Tomb of the Virgin in Jerusalem, Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, Encampment of the Pilgrims at Jericho, Church of Resurrection, the tomb of Joseph at Nablus, and the tomb of Zechariah. We find also views of deserts, plains, mountains, orchards, ruins, and springs.

While the views of Palestine were produced by a multitude of artists about a century and a half ago, reproducing an overall panorama of the Country within an integrated and clear scene is nevertheless a plausible possibility. Based on such prospect, modern viewers can have a complete image of a civilization that has been a home for the sacred sites for the three faiths. Such obvious integration – theoretically – is ascribed to the artists’ faithful, realistic approach to the subjects of their paintings. This is especially true when it comes to the right distribution of lights and shadows, proportional measurements, horizontal and vertical succession of layers, and logical transition from clear foregrounds to less definite backgrounds. This is in addition to palettes that are almost identical due to their faithful recording of their scenes. The adoption of available printing techniques in Europe instead of manual depiction, mainly lithography, by those artists to produce their artworks added to their documentary value. Collecting large-size print books at the time was in fact a common practice among European aristocrats and a manifestation of refinement and art appreciation.

A significant number of artworks by Orientalist artists about Palestine – as in their paintings of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and other North Africa countries – provide us with extremely refined and enchanting images of wide scenes from elevated perspectives. Indeed, the views were depicted by artists from mountaintops, highlands, minarets, or available towers to maximize observances and reach remote skylines.  The objective was in general rendering artworks that respect the grandeur of places with expanses that succeeded each other to the remotest backgrounds creating deep views fading away within yet clear images.

This said, I can conceive digital technologies being used now to process and assimilate many of these artistic renderings whose structures and perspectives are compatible to reproduce an overall visual structure that can accommodate limitless potentials. Through an endeavor of such originality, we can approach a universal scene that is distributed among individual paintings that only a very sharp and knowledgeable memory can conceive in a single setting.

In the selection of Palestine’s paintings, there are records of structures that are more or less still existing architectural monuments. Some of them have been partially collapsed or renovated. For example, Samuel Prou’s painting from a sketch made by T. Katherwood in 1835 provided the details of the Omari Mosque’s pulpit. The Mosque, the oldest in the city, was built in Jerusalem at the same place were the Khalifa Omar spread his gown on the ground to pray a stone’s throw away from the Church of Resurrection after receiving the Church’s keys from the Patriarch Sophronius of Jerusalem. He did so to eliminate any prospect of changing the Church into a mosque by Muslims.

The displayed collection includes also a painting by William Henry Bartlett from 1838 depicting the city of Akka’s walls that defeated the French invaders in 1799. According to “Before Their Diaspora: A Photographic History of the Palestinians 1876-1948” by Walid Khalidi[1], the history of the city dates back to the 9th century B.C. In 1847, Bartlett made another panoramic painting of the city depicting several figures of a congregation among tombs in its foreground, in addition to other dispersed groups of people through a deep perspective with a clear view of the Dome of the Rock (ed.: a Muslim shrine built over a sacred stone believed to be where Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven during his Night Journey to heaven.)

Again in 1850 Bartlett produced a further painting for the architectural structures in Jerusalem. It demonstrated the Tomb of the Virgin. On 431 AD, Patriarch Juvenal protected it by building a church over it and again in 490 AD Emperor Maurice built a basilica over the old one.

Bartlett’s Tomb of the Virgin in Jerusalem dated 1838 depicted the interior of the Church with its huge Roman pillars in its original shape as built by the Emperor Justinian in the early 6th century in the place where Jesus Christ was born.[2]

David Roberts produced a panoramic collection of paintings of Al Khalil, Askalan, Gaza, Jaffa, Akka and Bethlehem, in addition to the churches of Nativity, Resurrection, St. Saba,  St. George, and st. James.

In the same, many sites in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan were recorded. In the collection about Lebanon, there are depictions of ruins near Tyre, Siniq River, Tibnin Castle, Baalbek, Waterfall of Jizzine, Qamoo Al Hirmil, Greater & Lesser Temples of Baalbec, Der-el-kamar, palaces of Beteddein, Tripoli, Port of Beirut and Citadel of Sidon.

In Jordan, there are great views of Petra, the Fords on the Jordan, Plain of the Jordan, Dead Sea, Encampment of the Pilgrims, Tomb of Aaron, Excavations at the Valley of Petra, and Fortress of Akaba.

Views from Syria include Kalat Schemma, Banias Cave, Hermon Mountain, Barada River, Turtosa, approach to Antioch, Damascus and plain of Latakia.

The Levant Exhibition displays paintings for more than 3o Orientalist artists, the most known among them are David Roberts, W. Finden, Muller, J. Jacottet, Eug. Ciceri, Laurens, Deroy, L. Sabatier, Terry, W.H. Mc Farlane, Danas, W.H. Bartlett, C. Stanfield, Hon. W.E. Fitzmaurice, Wheley, J. Williams, S. Prout, A.W. Callcot, E. Benjamin, C. Bentley, Whimper, J.M.W. Turner, P. Meerer, Harley, Bacheher, Daniaud, Deshayes, R. Meeder, S. Fisher, and T. Allom.

The selection of artworks bears a great artistic value. The accomplishments of those artists could indeed record and perpetuate historical features that – unless for their timeless creations – would have been lost forever. Thanks to them, today researchers have a treasure of credible visual documents about aspects of our history where so many  have been lost forever.

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[1] Walid Khalidi; Before Their Diaspora: A Photographic History Of The Palestinians 1876-1948, the Palestinian Studies Organization, Beirut, 3rd version, 2006. P 259

[2] The Church is located to the south of Bethlehem and thought to be built first by the Emperor Constantine in 335 AD.


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