Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Request to view at the Prints & Drawings Study Room, level D , Case DR, Shelf EXP, Box ABOVE 183

View of Grand Cairo from the Summit of the Great Pyramid of Giza

Watercolour
ca. 1800 (painted)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This remarkable view taken from the top of the Great Pyramid, is a dramatic watercolour typical of Luigi Mayer’s work in Egypt. Mayer trained in Rome, yet very little is known about his origins or personality, nor even if he was German, Swiss or Italian in origin. After painting landscapes for the King of Naples, he found employment in about 1786 with the British Ambassador to Istanbul, Sir Robert Ainslie, as well as journeying with other English travellers. For a time he became the ambassador’s painter, paid 50 guineas a year, and had to paint swiftly whatever caught his Lordship’s fancy when travelling. This did not seem to quell his painterly vigour and enthusiasm, so that his lively watercolours of antiquities, architecture, landscapes, manners and customs of the inhabitants of Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Greece, Romania and even Suffolk are still eagerly collected. Mayer went to England with Sir Robert in 1794, and between 1801 and 1810 aquatints after his watercolours were published in several volumes sponsored by Ainslie. Luigi’s paintings necessarily reflect his employer’s attitudes to the peoples he visited. However, according to the Dictionary of National Biography, Ainslie was alleged to be `strongly attached to the manner of the people … in his house, his garden, and his table he assumed the style and fashion of a Musselman [Muslim] of rank; in fine, he lived en Turk, and pleased the natives so much by this seeming policy … that he became more popular than any of the Christian ministers. (St James's Chronicle, 9 Dec 1790).

Luigi died in 1803, survived by his widow Clara, daughter of Mr. Barthold, an interpreter employed by Sir Robert. Clara continued to live in London, painting and selling her own landscapes, publishing her own work and assisting in the publication of her late husband's paintings.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Watercolour and gouache with gum, heightened with white, on paper watermarked J WHATMAN 1794
Brief Description
Watercolour, View of Grand Cairo from the Summit of the Great Pyramid of Giza, about 1800, by Luigi Mayer
Physical Description
Watercolour drawing
Dimensions
  • Height: 54.6cm
  • Width: 90.7cm
Styles
Marks and Inscriptions
Lettered VEDUTA DEL GRAN CAIRO CON LI SUOI SOBBORGHI DA BULAK FINO A SACCARA PRESA DALLA SOMMITA DELLA MAGGIORE PIRAMIDE DI GIZA. and signed L. Mayer dipinse
Credit line
Purchased with the assistance of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Art Fund, Shell International and the Friends of the V&A
Object history
According to Rodney Searight: - `Bt W.T. Spencer, Nov.1973, £175 plus tax'
Historical context
Reproduced: A version in Mayer, Egypt, 1801[-04], Pl.4, aquatint titled Top of The First Pyramid Of Gizah. (see SP.376).
Subject depicted
Places Depicted
Summary
This remarkable view taken from the top of the Great Pyramid, is a dramatic watercolour typical of Luigi Mayer’s work in Egypt. Mayer trained in Rome, yet very little is known about his origins or personality, nor even if he was German, Swiss or Italian in origin. After painting landscapes for the King of Naples, he found employment in about 1786 with the British Ambassador to Istanbul, Sir Robert Ainslie, as well as journeying with other English travellers. For a time he became the ambassador’s painter, paid 50 guineas a year, and had to paint swiftly whatever caught his Lordship’s fancy when travelling. This did not seem to quell his painterly vigour and enthusiasm, so that his lively watercolours of antiquities, architecture, landscapes, manners and customs of the inhabitants of Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Greece, Romania and even Suffolk are still eagerly collected. Mayer went to England with Sir Robert in 1794, and between 1801 and 1810 aquatints after his watercolours were published in several volumes sponsored by Ainslie. Luigi’s paintings necessarily reflect his employer’s attitudes to the peoples he visited. However, according to the Dictionary of National Biography, Ainslie was alleged to be `strongly attached to the manner of the people … in his house, his garden, and his table he assumed the style and fashion of a Musselman [Muslim] of rank; in fine, he lived en Turk, and pleased the natives so much by this seeming policy … that he became more popular than any of the Christian ministers. (St James's Chronicle, 9 Dec 1790).



Luigi died in 1803, survived by his widow Clara, daughter of Mr. Barthold, an interpreter employed by Sir Robert. Clara continued to live in London, painting and selling her own landscapes, publishing her own work and assisting in the publication of her late husband's paintings.
Bibliographic References
  • See large group of gouache drawings by Luigi Mayer, commissioned by Robert Ainslie (1729-1812) in Adam's Country House Collections at Slane Castle, Co. Meath, catalogue of auction held on 6th October 2009, lots 517 to 542.
  • Charles Newton `Images of the Ottoman Empire', 2007, illustrated on pages 32-33
  • Conner, Patrick (ed). The Inspiration of Egypt : its influence on British artists, travellers, and designers, 1700-1900 . Brighton Borough Council, Brighton, 1983
Collection
Accession Number
SD.642

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record createdMarch 1, 2008
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