Early artists captured the mystery of hulking, half-buried ancient Egyptian monuments.
With hulking monuments half-buried in sand, the ancient Egyptian empire fascinated 19th- and 20th-century artists. This cultural obsession is documented in the Cleveland Museum of Art's Pyramids and Sphinxes.
On view Feb. 6-May 24, the exhibit spans earlier prints, drawings and photos of the mystifying archaeological wonders to later pieces when the icons became well-documented.
"It's all about people's response," says curator Barbara Tannenbaum. "How do the photographers deal with these [monuments] when they're no longer mysterious? Some artists respond with wonder and awe, others respond with irony and humor." We unbury three pieces in the exhibit.
Egypt and Nubia, Volume III: Approach of the Simoon-Desert at Gizeh
David Roberts with Louis Haghe, 1849
"There is a bit of romanticism," Tannenbaum says. Roberts, the first British artist to send back comprehensive drawings and images from Egypt, enhanced his color lithographs. "The pyramids' or the colossi's faces, he added a little definition to them."
Fallen Statue at the Ramesseum, Thebes
Francis Frith, 1857
Frith almost literally followed in Roberts' footsteps by photographing the monuments from Roberts' viewpoints. "Frith has a wonderful quote, 'A truthful record is of more value than an elaborately beautiful picture,' " says Tannenbaum. "You have this use of photography, in part, as a type of corrective."
The Temple of Edfu: The Door of the Pylon
John Frederick Lewis, 1850
Upon returning from a trip up the Nile, Lewis, the first English artist to spend extended time in Egypt, sketched this watercolor. "He uses the buff color of the paper as the stone and the sand, and then the bright azure blue sky," says Tannenbaum of the piece recently acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art.