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Photograph - Door of student's cell in the funerary complex of Mamluk Amir Sanjar al-Jawli, Cairo
  • Door of student's cell in the funerary complex of Mamluk Amir Sanjar al-Jawli, Cairo
    K.A.C. Creswell, born 1879 - died 1974
  • Enlarge image

Door of student's cell in the funerary complex of Mamluk Amir Sanjar al-Jawli, Cairo

  • Object:

    Photograph

  • Place of origin:

    Cairo (photographed)
    Egypt (photographed)

  • Date:

    1920s (photographed)

  • Artist/Maker:

    K.A.C. Creswell, born 1879 - died 1974 (photographer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Black and white photograph

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased from Professor Sir K.A.C. Creswell, 1926

  • Museum number:

    2741-1926

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This is one of a large collection of architectural views acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum Art Library from Professor Sir K.A.C. Creswell (1879-1974) between 1921 and 1939. The majority of the views are of Cairo, but the collection also includes views of Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Constantinople and Tunisia. Creswell is considered the eminent pioneer in the scholarship of medieval Islamic architectural history. Among his publications, Early Muslim Architecture (vol. 1, 1932 & vol. 2, 1940) and Muslim Architecture of Egypt (vol. 1, 1952 & vol. 2, 1959) remain basic research tools for scholars of medieval Islamic architecture.

Creswell has been credited with bringing a level of scholarship and quality to the field. Prior to Creswell's work, archaeological fieldwork consisted of drawing a reconstruction of the original plan of a monument. Creswell considered photography an essential part of recording the physical evidence. He took and printed his own photographs and paid attention to their quality.

Creswell started taking his own photographs at least as early as 1916 as views were published and credited to Creswell in the 1917 Cairo travel guide, Rambles in Cairo written by Henriette Devonshire. A few of the V&A’s views overlap with those published in Devonshire’s guide, but the fieldwork Creswell undertook for his books was most likely the source of the photographs that he sold to the Museum.

Many of the buildings which Creswell photographed are no longer extant, others may have been significantly changed through later restoration or adaptation. These photographs therefore provide an invaluable record for those interested in the history of the major monuments of the Islamic Middle East.

Physical description

A mounted black and white photograph showing a topographical view of Cairo, Egypt

Place of Origin

Cairo (photographed)
Egypt (photographed)

Date

1920s (photographed)

Artist/maker

K.A.C. Creswell, born 1879 - died 1974 (photographer)

Materials and Techniques

Black and white photograph

Marks and inscriptions

مدرسة ومسجد سنجر الجاولى

Object history note

The first record of correspondence between K.A.C. Creswell and the Victoria and Albert Museum dates from 15 February 1916. It relates to Creswell's article 'The History and Evolution of the Dome in Persia', an illustrated monograph he presented to the Library. Some four years later, Creswell approached the V&A concerning his collection of photographs. In a letter dated 15 September 1920, two months after Creswell was demobilized from the Army - having served in Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Palestine, including a posting as Inspector of Monuments of Occupied Enemy Territory - Creswell wrote to G.H. Palmer of the Museum's Art Library offering a set of ‘about 2600 architectural photographs’ of Islamic architecture, printed on Velox paper. Included with the correspondence were 16 specimen photographs. Noting Creswell's expertise in the subject and his 'special opportunities to take photographs', Palmer endorsed the purchase and the Library confirmed the order on 26 November 1920. This suggests that the V&A was the first public collection to acquire Creswell's photographs.

Creswell was known to collect views by other photographers working in the region. According to the historian Ritchie Thomas, the Armernian photographer G. Lekegian made many photographs for Creswell and he considered him a ‘personal’ friend.1 But we know that Creswell started taking his own photographs at least as early as 1916, as they were published and credited to Creswell in a 1917 Cairo travel guide.

Shortly after his offer to the V&A, Creswell departed for Cairo in order to begin his monumental book project on Muslim architecture under the patronage of King Fuad of Egypt. This would explain Creswell's stipulation as part of the purchase expressly limiting the V&A's reproduction of these views pending the publication of his book.

That first order was filled in 14 batches sent to the V&A from Cairo beginning 14 January 1921. The final batch was received at the Museum on 26 April 1921. This first order totalled 2612 photographs delivered by Creswell to the V&A (not including the original 16 specimens).

The relationship with the V&A continued throughout Creswell's lifetime and subsequent smaller acquisitions of photographs from Creswell followed in 1926, 1927, 1929, 1930 and 1939. This view is from the 1926 purchase of 288 prints each measuring 6 3/4 x 4 3/4". Mr. G.H. Palmer, Keeper of the National Art Library, recommended the acquisition in a memo to the Director noting they were prints of his [Creswell's] more recent negatives of Muhammadan architecture....includ[ing] important groups of photographs of the window grilles and soffits of the Mosque of Ibn Tulum, mosaics of the Great Mosque at Damascus and other work in that city, photographs of buildings in Jerusalem, Homs, Quseir Amra and other places in the Desert, etc.' He added: 'These will form a valuable addition to the collection...purchased from Capt. Creswell in April 1921'.

Creswell regularly gifted copies of his publications to the Museum and when in London, library records confirm that he was a frequent visitor to the National Art Library where he conducted research. Creswell was also a popular lecturer at the V&A. In regards to a 1931 talk he gave at the Museum, Creswell boasted to his friend, the renowned art historian Bernard Berenson:

“At the V. and A. Museum there is seating accomodation [sic] for 550. At 5.10 there was standing room only, at 5.25 the doors were shut, and MacLagan [V&A Director, 1924-44] tells me that 150 were turned away! So I feel quite like a cinema star! […]”2

1Richie Thomas, ‘Some 19th Century Photographers in Syria, Palestine and Egypt’, The History of Photography, 3, no. 2 (April 1979): 157-166.
2Letter from Creswell to Bernard Berenson 5 February 1931, The Berenson Archive, Villa I Tatti, The Harvard Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Florence, Italy.

Descriptive line

Photograph by K.A.C. Creswell, captioned 'Madrasa-Mausoleum of the Emirs Salar and Sangar al-Gâwly. Cell with grille', built in 1303-4. Cairo, Egypt, gelatin silver print, 1920's

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

K.A.C. Creswell, The Muslim Architecture of Egypt, Vol. 2, Ayyubids and Early Bahrite Mamluks (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959) pl.94b
Hamilton, R W. Keppel Archibald Cameron Creswell, 1879-1974. In Muqarnas VIII: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture, edited by Oleg Grabar. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1991.

Production Note

The glass negative for this photograph is in the Creswell Archive, held in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (EA.CA.4710)

Materials

Photographic paper

Techniques

Technique

Categories

Photographs; Topography; Archaeology; Architecture; Middle East; Historic Cairo

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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