When Roberts arrived in Cairo in late September 1838, he lost no time in obtaining a boat for his journey up the Nile, and set off on 6 October. He arrived at Luxor and Karnak a couple of weeks later and wrote enthusiastically in his Journal on 23 October: 'If Luxor struck me with its magnitude, what shall I say of Carnac [sic]? Its grandeur cannot be imagined. Were I to write what I think it would be mere rhapsody. It is so far beyond every thing I have ever seen that I can draw no comparison. Like all the other temples on approaching it you are disappointed...it is only upon coming nearer that you are overwhelmed as it were with astonishment; you must be under them and look up and walk around them - and for this reason I am fearful painting will scarcely convey any notion of what I mean' (D. Roberts, Eastern Journal, 23 October 1838). Nevertheless, when he revisited the site at the end of November on the return journey to Cairo, he made numerous drawings, one, no doubt, the preliminary sketch for the present final watercolour, executed in England for the lithograph.
This view of the famous Hypostyle Hall in the Temple of Amun at Karnak was depicted many times by early travelling artists, who all expressed a sense of awe at the number and size of the columns. The present watercolour shows some of the 122 closed or bundle capitals and looks north through the Hall towards the collapsed columns near the north gate.
We are grateful to Briony Llewellyn and Caroline Williams for their help in preparing this catalogue entry.