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Oil painting - The Gate of Metawalea
  • The Gate of Metawalea
    David Roberts, born 1796 - died 1864
  • Enlarge image

The Gate of Metawalea

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Egypt (made)

  • Date:

    1843 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    David Roberts, born 1796 - died 1864 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    oil on panel

  • Credit Line:

    Given by John Sheepshanks, 1857

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, room 122h, case WN

Object Type
Oil paintings illustrating the lands mentioned in the Bible became more popular in the first half of the 19th century. This was due in part to religious revivals in Britain, and partly to the increasing accessibility of Palestine and Egypt for artists and other visitors.

Subject Depicted
Egypt as a source of subjects for painters provided both the stupendous ruins of the Egypt of the Pharaohs and the splendid buildings of medieval Cairo. The district of Grand Cairo depicted here is Bab Zuwayla, one of the three main gates of Cairo, built in 1092 AD. This was also known locally as Bab Mutwalli (hence Roberts's title). The twin minarets above the gate are those of the Mosque of Sultan Mu'ayyad Shaykh, built just inside the gate between 1415 and 1421.

David Roberts spent one and half months working in Cairo, intending to balance his covering of Egypt's ancient temples with paintings of the country's Islamic architecture. His skill in dramatically rendering both the architecture and the lively street scene owes a lot to his early work for the theatre and opera. He first made his name in London in the 1820s as both a designer and painter of stage sets and panoramic backdrops at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and at Covent Garden.

Physical description

The Gate of Cairo, called Bab-el-Mutawellee 'The Gate of Metawalea', by David Roberts RA (British, 1796-1864); oil on panel; signed and dated 1843.

Place of Origin

Egypt (made)


1843 (made)


David Roberts, born 1796 - died 1864 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

oil on panel

Marks and inscriptions

'David Roberts, RA 1843'


Height: 76.1 cm, Width: 62.8 cm, Height: 102 cm framed, Width: 89 cm framed

Object history note

Given by John Sheepshanks, 1857. By David Roberts RA (born in Edinburgh, 1796, died in London, 1864)

Descriptive line

Oil painting entitled 'The Gate of Metawalea', depicting The Gate of Cairo, called Bab-el-Mutawellee, by David Roberts. British School, Egypt, 1843.

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

Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860, Ronald Parkinson, Victoria and Albert Museum, London: HMSO, 1990, p. 252
This is the full text of the catalogue entry:

"ROBERTS, David, RA (1796-1864)
Born Stockbridge, near Edinburgh, 24 October 1796, the son of a shoemaker. Apprenticed to a house painter from about 1808-15, and also worked as a theatrical scenery painter. Moved to London 1822; worked at Theatre Royal and Covent Garden. Achieved a high reputation as a painter in oils and watercolours, mainly of architectural views. Exhibited 101 works at the RA between 1826 and 1864, 32 at the BI 1825-59, and 50 at the SBA 1824-36 (elected Member 1825, President 1830). Elected ARA 1838, RA 1841. Travelled frequently and extensively; from his first visit to France 1824, he toured in Belgium, Holland, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the Near East. Published lithographic reproductions of his drawings, notably 'Picturesque Sketches in Spain' (1837) and 'The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia' (1842-9). Died 25 November 1864; his studio sale was at Christie's 13-20 May 1865, and that of his son-in-law Henry Bicknell 7-9 April 1881.
LIT: J Ballantine The Life of David Roberts, RA 1866; H Guiterman (et al) David Roberts; Artist Adventurer Scottish Arts Council exhibition catalogue 1981; H Guiterman and B Llewellyn David Roberts Barbican Art Gallery exhibition catalogue 1986

The Gate of Metwaley, Cairo
FA176 Neg31858
Panel, 76.1 X 62.8 cm (30 X 24 ¾3/4 ins) Signed and dated 'David Roberts, RA 1843' bl
Sheepshanks Gift 1857

Exhibited at the RA in 1843 as 'Gate of the Mosque of Metwalis, Grand Cairo' and sold to John Sheepshanks for £105.
The southern gate of the old city, now in the centre of modern Cairo, was built in 1092, the minarets above of the Mosque and Tomb of Sultan Muayyad Shaykh were added 1415-20. The view is from Shavia Darb-alAhmar (Red Street). A watercolour of the same view, but omitting the left-hand building, is dated 1838 (private collection; exh Barbican Art Gallery 1986 (138), repr Guiterman and Llewellyn p 115). Roberts toured the Near East between September 1838 and May 1839, and was in Cairo in December and January. While he was impressed by the Picturesque qualities of the architecture, he found working difficult: 'I have stood in the crowded streets of Cairo jostled and stared at until I came home quite sick no one in looking over my sketches will ever think of the pain and trouble I have had to contend with in collecting them' (MS Eastern Journal, 1 January 1839).
The Art Union critic found that 'The pencil of this celebrated artist descends to the nicest minutiae, where necessary, an example of which is here offered. The street is crowded with figures, camels, ete., in perfect keeping with the Mauresque architecture'.

EXH: RA 1843 (210); David Roberts Barbican Art Gallery 1986 (146)

LIT: Art Union 1843, p166

Ronald Parkinson."

Labels and date

British Galleries:
David Roberts was one of a number of contemporary British painters of landscapes and architecture who travelled abroad in search of picturesque and exotic subjects. The East was Robert's greatest source of inspiration, and he visited Cairo in 1838-1839. The colourful and dramatic paintings by this celebrated artist reached a wide audience as many were reproduced in print. [27/03/2003]

Production Note

dated 1843


Oil paint; Panel


Oil painting

Subjects depicted



Paintings; British Galleries; Scotland

Collection code


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