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Watercolour - The Great Khan, Damascus
  • The Great Khan, Damascus
    Spiers, Richard Phené FRIBA, FSA, born 1838 - died 1916
  • Enlarge image

The Great Khan, Damascus

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Syria (painted)

  • Date:

    1865-1866 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Spiers, Richard Phené FRIBA, FSA, born 1838 - died 1916 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour over pencil, stuck down on card

  • 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 SCX, shelf 5

Object Type
Paintings illustrating the treatment of exotic interiors became more frequent in the 19th century. In the search for ideas for a new building style British architects studied architecture outside Europe. These traditional forms were also threatened with obliteration by `the march of progress', and drawings had to be made to record them before they were destroyed.

Spiers was an architect better-known for his teaching and writing on the subject than as a practitioner. In 1865-1866 he toured the Middle East on a travelling scholarship from the Royal Academy. On his return he exhibited several pictures with Eastern subjects at the Royal Academy of which this was probably one. His aim was to encourage British architects to adopt or be inspired by the very different traditions of architectural practice to be found within Islam.

Subjects Depicted
In 1751 the Governor of Damascus, Assad Pasha al-Azam, commissioned the construction of this khan or secure place for merchants to stay, store and sell their goods. It was completed in 1753. The alternate colours of the bands of stone are good examples of polychrome or multicoloured architecture. Spiers wanted this type of building technique imitated in Britain.

Physical description

Watercolour drawing

Place of Origin

Syria (painted)


1865-1866 (made)


Spiers, Richard Phené FRIBA, FSA, born 1838 - died 1916 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour over pencil, stuck down on card

Marks and inscriptions

Signed R.Phené Spiers.; lettered with title and name of artist on former mount


Height: 36.4 cm unmounted, Width: 25.8 cm unmounted

Object history note

According to Rodney Searight: - `Bt Christie's, [2] Nov.1979 [(191)], via Fine Art Society,

Historical context note

The artist exhibited `Great Khan at Damascus' at the RA in 1867 (911).

Descriptive line

Watercolour, `The Great Khan, Damascus', 1865-1866, by Richard Phené Spiers FRIBA FSA

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

Searight, Rodney and Scarce, Jennifer M., A Middle Eastern journey : artists on their travels from the collection of Rodney Searight, Talbot Rice Art Centre, 1980
Darby, M, The Islamic Perspective: Aspect of British Architecture and Design in the 19th Century, London, V&A, 1983

Labels and date

British Galleries:
The artist Richard Phen‚ Spiers toured the Eastern Mediterranean region from 1865 to 1866 to study both ancient and contemporary Islamic architecture. This painting is a carefully-observed study of the architecture of a 16th-century building. Spiers then exhibited his paintings in the hope of inspiring British architects. [27/03/2003]




Watercolour drawing

Subjects depicted





Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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