This large, ambitious painting by Weeks early in his career depicts a vast entourage of Greek Orthodox priests, assisted by Arab horsemen on white steeds guiding the procession, crossing the Jordan river under a Roman aqueduct into Palestine en route to annual Easter ceremonies in Jerusalem. Dated 1875, the painting was completed in Paris under the tutelage of Bonnat and Gérôme at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, then shipped to Boston for exhibition. The loose brushwork is especially characteristic of Bonnat, whom Weeks always noted as his pupil in his subsequent entries into the Paris Salon. Typical of Weeks in its mise-en-scene, the painting depicts a caravan of men and animals on foot through the desert backlit by a warm spring sun.
Scenically, the painting is inspired by Weeks’ travels into the Middle East in the early 1870s, specifically into Egypt, Beirut, Syria and especially Palestine. As in this painting Weeks grew famous for his depictions of bright, clear sunlight and for his sense of stage-set theatricality.
There is a backdrop of rugged mountains in the distance, paralleled by the aqueduct, in front of which is a stand of large trees serving as a background to the principal figures and animals in the painting’s foreground. The entourage of pilgrims is headed by a great camel characteristically realistically rendered. The priests in their blue vestments are on donkeys or in carts on the sides of the animals– the custom of carriage far into Persia. The large bearded figure in the foreground is probably from an Eastern Orthodox region and wears a cassock and cape with a lamb’s wool hat. The foreground is filled with priests and attendants in an array of exotic costumes from different provinces of the Middle East– elderly bearded priests and young attendants, some carrying parasols lit by the sun. Even though backlit the composition is obviously full of color, an early indication of Weeks’ career-long strengths. Although an unusual subject matter for Weeks, the structure and physical environment of this striking painting is absolutely typical of his life-long concerns in art.
The painting is accompanied by a Letter of Authentication signed by Dr. Ellen K. Morris and will appear in the catalogue raisonné of the Works of Edwin Lord Weeks. We are grateful to Ellen K. Morris, PhD for confirming the authenticity of this lot and for her assistance with this catalogue note.