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.
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Copyright (c) 2022 Jeremy Brooker