London, Asharq Al-Awsat- A treasure trove of books, maps and old photographs may be a simple description of the contents of today’s (8 May 2008) auction at Sotheby’s called “Natural History, Travel, Atlases and Maps”. However, such a description does not do justice to the rare collection on sale. In fact; the exhibited collection represents the product of centuries of observation, travels and the huge lengths that travelers had to go through to document and describe the findings of their journeys on paper.
Hailing from all over the world, the collection offers something special for everybody. Moreover, the catalogue is very diverse and presents various different perspectives of travelling scholars who toured the world in search of knowledge and for the love of travel.
Deputy Director of Books and Manuscripts at Sotheby’s Richard Fattorini, surrounded by bookcases and scattered maps, pointed to a large collection of volumes to his right and revealed that the collection included drawings by the renowned Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius.
Lepsius, a German native, is deemed one of the forefathers of Egyptology and is known for having accurately conducted a number of important and accurate surveys of Egyptian monuments, among other achievements. It is a rare and important collection for many specialists, Fattorini stated.
Indeed, simply browsing this collection gives one a sense of the greatness of the work achieved by Lepsius. His drawings of temple walls have transformed to become amazing artworks. A particularly striking one depicts a temple worker admiring one of the Pharaonic columns that surround him. These drawings date back to 1849-1858 and depict some sites and locations that have disappeared as a result of demolition or have become buried under the sand.
Also featured in the same catalogue is a copy of the 11-volume book ‘Description de l’ةgypte’ (1809), which is the collaborative work of 160 scholars and scientists and which later incorporated the contributions of thousands of artists and engravers.
There is a significant collection of works related to the Arab world, including travel accounts of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and the Arabian Gulf, in the form of photographs, maps and drawings in which the travelers recorded the wonders of their travels.
Distinguished draughtsman Robert Hay who was famous for making a number of drawings of Qurna also made some impeccable illustrations of the Islamic architecture of Egypt, including streets and buildings. The work for which he received the most recognition was the two 360-degree panoramas entitled “The Panoramas of Thebes” and which are a unique record of the Theban Necropolis. Some of his works are also included in the collection.
But it is not only maps, drawings and travel accounts that make up this collection; there are a number of anonymous photographs documenting dress codes, such as the photograph entitled ‘Hamdi Bey and Mary Dolonay’ in which a Turkish man (Hamdi Bey presumably) is seated next Western looking woman. Dating back to 1873, the picture is part of the collection in the book “Popular Dress in Turkey” by photographer Pascal Siba.
Fattorini also pointed out that there was a small collection of photographs of Jeddah, Mecca and Medina. When asked about Sotheby’s interest in photographs of sacred places, especially since it is the second time such pictures have been auctioned in less than a year, Fattorini answered that the success of the past auction and the steep prices that the previous pictures were sold for was what encouraged the vendor to contact the auction house and put them on offer.
Of the aforementioned collection, a considerable number of photos are centered on the caravan (mahmal) journeys from Cairo to Mecca. The pictures document the stages of the procession as it sets off in Cairo then boards a ship and travels via the Red Sea to Jeddah onto its final destination in Mecca.
Aside from the mahmal journey photographs, the collection also includes approximately 29 pictures of Jeddah, Yanbu and Mecca, in addition to photographs of Mena and Arafat. Sotheby’s expects this collection of photographs to be sold between £25,000 and £30,000.
Another collection of photographs, taken by a British photographer, Dr. A. G. Lawrence, includes rare pictures of various regions in the Arabian Gulf, including Iraq, Bahrain and Aden. The pictures were taken by the British doctor who traveled to the region whilst accompanying the Indian navy, documenting his travels on a variety of different levels such as customs, architecture, and crafts.
Occupying an important space in the collection are maps of the Gulf region unto Palestine. These range from the maps of George Willdey (1732), which include a map of Palestine entitled “The Promised Land” to a number of other cartographers. Also part of the collection is a book about Palestine’s history and geography in accordance with the Old Testament.