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Watercolour - Rat dEgypte apellé en Arabe Gérbouh
  • Rat dEgypte apellé en Arabe Gérbouh
    Adanson, Jean Baptiste
  • Enlarge image

Rat dEgypte apellé en Arabe Gérbouh

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Egypt (painted)

  • Date:

    1775-1796 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Adanson, Jean Baptiste (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Pencil and watercolour

  • 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:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level D, case 89, shelf SCX, box 1

Jerboas, rodents quipped with powerful hind legs and very long tails for balance, are capable of leaping large distances to escape predators. They are nocturnal desert dwellers, common in Egypt, thriving in arid conditions and feeding on plant material. Here, this animal, possibly a portrait of a pet, [they are said to be shy but easily tamed] is shown eating a date, holding the fruit in its tiny front paws. The name jerboa is said to derive from Arabic words meaning `meaty thighs’, and for a mouse-like creature, they are certainly big. Their burrows are deep and include a sleeping chamber with a nest made of camel's hair or shredded vegetation.

Jean-Baptiste Adanson was a diplomat, antiquarian and draughtsman, and brother of the naturalist Michel Adanson. Jean-Baptiste was the official French interpreter at various cities in Egypt and Syria, and became French consul in Egypt from 1775 until 1785. He compiled a large collection of his drawings of natural history, antiquities and views, yet a proposal in 1795 by a Committee of the Convention Nationale in Paris to publish his material was never realised. In some ways he anticipated Napoleon’s project of recording modern and ancient Egypt, which was finally published under the title of Description de L’Egypte in the early years of the nineteenth century.

Physical description

Watercolour drawing of a jerboa or desert rat, eating a date.

Place of Origin

Egypt (painted)


1775-1796 (painted)


Adanson, Jean Baptiste (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Pencil and watercolour

Marks and inscriptions

Rat d'Egypte apellé en Arabe Gérbouh
Egyptian rat called in Arabic "Jerbou'' [i.e.Jerboa]
picture title; French and Arabic; Front, lower margin; Adanson


Height: 29.5 cm, Width: 46.5 cm

Object history note

Bought by Hughes Hallett at Christie's, 16.7.63, Lot 39.
Bought at Sotheby's 27/4/66, Lot 24, by Rodney Searight for £314.

Historical significance: This is a relatively early and accurate natural history illustration of the Lesser Egyptian Jerboa, (Jaculus jaculus). The word Jerboa is from the Arabic `Jerbou' which is alleged to mean `meaty thigh.'

Historical context note

During his career Adanson filled notebooks and portfolios with drawings of natural history, antiquities and views. A proposal in 1795 by a Committee of the Convention Nationale in Paris to publish his material was never realised. Comparable works are now in Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.

Descriptive line

Watercolour, a drawing of a jerboa or desert rat, eating a date, entitled `Rat d'Egypte apellé en Arabe Gérbouh, by Jean-Baptiste Adanson, 1775-1796.

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

The Middle East Watercolours and drawings by British and foreign artists and travellers. 1750-1900. From the Collection of Rodney Searight Esq. By Rodney Searight. 1971. Cat. 119.
Briony Llewellyn The Orient Observed V&A, 1989 p. 140
Images of the Ottoman Empire, Charles Newton, 2007, p. 84


Pencil; Watercolour


Painting; Drawing

Subjects depicted

Natural History; Jerboa



Production Type



Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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