David Roberts made his first visit to the Middle East in 1838-9, which resulted in his best known work, a set of 247 coloured lithographs of The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia, published 1842-1849. In this drawing Roberts has illustrated the monastery from the south-east, with the Plain of El Raha in the distance.
The artist spent four nights at the monastery from 18 to 22 February 1839: 'We reached the convent about seven o'clock and...a small twinkling light appeared at a great height in the wall, and on looking up a black bearded monk could just be distinguished...after some time another door, covered with plates of Iron, was unbolted and a trap raised...The Superior received us in person with the greatest attention and kindness. A supper was soon provided for us of rice and dried dates and never did a poor pilgrim sleep more soundly than I under the hospitable roof of the monks of St. Catherine...' (Roberts's journal in J. Ballantine, Life of David Roberts RA, 1866, p. 117).
The drawings shows the monastery from the South-East, with the Plain of Raha in the distance. Along with the other drawings for the lithographs, it was probably executed by the artist in his studio, after his return from the East, using a preliminary, on-the-spot sketch, which is now in the Searight Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (SD. 876). This seems to have been made as Roberts left the monastery, just as he was beginning the ascent of Jebel Musa (Mount Sinai), on his route through Sinai to Petra.
St. Catherine's Monastery, which sits at the foot of Mount Sinai where Moses received the Ten Commandments, is famed for (among other things) its important library of ancient manuscripts and also for a 4th Century church, founded by St. Helena (the mother of Constantine the Great) incorporated into the present building, that reputedly was built on the site of the miraculous Burning Bush.
We are grateful to Briony Llewellyn for her help in preparing this catalogue entry.