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View of the Nile between Cairo and Alexandria

  • Object:

    Watercolour

  • Place of origin:

    Egypt (painted)
    Cairo (painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1510-1520 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Ink, watercolour and bodycolour, on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased with the assistance of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Art Fund, Shell International and the Friends of the V&A

  • Museum number:

    SD.1237:2

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level D, case 87, shelf SC, box 42

These unusual illustrations are not by a professional artist, and therefore look very different from most Italian drawings surviving from this date. They might be a traveller’s record of a pilgrimage, a trading expedition, or an ambassadorial visit. The Venetians had long-established trading agreements with the Mamluk Sultans of Cairo, the rulers of Egypt since 1250. The Venetians exported many kinds of goods; the most valuable things included oil, slaves, wool and silk cloth, and glass, (including mosque lamps). In return they mainly imported pepper and other spices, which were so valuable that they almost became a kind of currency.

The trade with Egypt was carefully regulated by the Republic, and pilgrims to the Holy Land (which included Egypt) were also permitted to book passages on the trading ships. In 1512 a special envoy, Domenico Trevisan, was sent from Venice to Cairo to renegotiate the terms of trade, and to secure the release of Italian nationals who had incurred the Sultan’s displeasure.

Although the depictions of Alexandria, the Nile and Cairo are rather primitive, the buildings and monuments are recognisable and in relatively the right place. The aqueduct which is such a prominent feature of the view of Cairo was restored by the Sultan al-Ghuri in 1508.

Physical description

One of four views on three sheets, formerly bound. The images are on the front and back of the sheets, with two of the views going across two sheets. On paper with an Italian watermark of the early 16th century.

Place of Origin

Egypt (painted)
Cairo (painted)

Date

ca. 1510-1520 (painted)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Ink, watercolour and bodycolour, on paper

Dimensions

Height: 28 cm, Width: 21.4 cm

Object history note

According to Rodney Searight: - `Sothebys, - 1960s, under £10.' [SD.1237:1-4]

Historical context note

These unusual illustrations are not by a professional artist, and therefore look very different from most Italian drawings surviving from this date. They might be a traveller’s record of a pilgrimage, a trading expedition, or an ambassadorial visit. The Venetians had long-established trading agreements with the Mamluk Sultans of Cairo, the rulers of Egypt since 1250. The Venetians exported many kinds of goods; the most valuable things included oil, slaves, wool and silk cloth, and glass, (including mosque lamps). In return they mainly imported pepper and other spices, which were so valuable that they almost became a kind of currency. The trade with Egypt was carefully regulated by the Republic, and pilgrims to the Holy Land (which included Egypt) were also permitted to book passages on the trading ships. In 1512 a special envoy, Domenico Trevisan, was sent from Venice to Cairo to renegotiate the terms of trade, and to secure the release of Italian nationals who had incurred the Sultan’s displeasure.
Although the depictions of Alexandria, the Nile and Cairo are rather primitive, the buildings and monuments are recognizable and in relatively the right place. According to Nicholas Warner : - “I suspect that the date is after 1508 which is when [Sultan] al-Ghuri restored the aqueduct which is such a prominent feature of the view….”
For extensive notes, see Searight Archive.

Descriptive line

Watercolour, View of the Nile between Cairo and Alexandria, about 1510-1520. Artist Unknown.

Categories

Paintings; Historic Cairo

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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