This temple on the west bank of the Nile at Luxor, was visited twice by Roberts during his voyage on the Nile in 1838. On the outward journey, on the way to Abu Simbel, he had visited all the temples on both sides of the Nile at Luxor, and on 21 October hired donkeys to visit the ruins at Gurnah on the west bank, noting in his journal: 'The head and shoulders of the Memnon lying on the ground is enormous one can only wonder how it got there - the trouble of dislodging it must have been almost equal to the erection ...'.
The present drawing was executed on the return journey when he was on the west bank of the river at Luxor from 3 to 5 December 1838, he notes in his journal 'I have been very industrous today, thanks to a Thunder Storm, a most uncommon thing in this part of the world Roberts was on the west bank of the river at Luxor from 3 to 5 December 1838, he notes in his Journal 'I have been very industrous today, thanks to a Thunder Storm, a most uncommon thing in this part of the world - The sun was quite obscured and the peals of thunder were very loud accompanied with rain.... Made four large coloured sketches two of the Memnonium and two of Medinet Habou.' (Eastern Journal, National Library of Scotland) The present drawing was executed on the spot, though possibly the colouring finished off at a later date during the trip. This drawing was used as the basis for the drawing which was eventually lithographed.
This temple was called the Memnonium or the Tomb of Osymandyas, one of the names of Rameses II, the king to whom it was dedicated. It is now more commonly known as the Ramesseum and is the temple from which another Collosal head was taken to the British Museum, where it inspired Shelley's famous sonnet Osymandias.
Charles Barry executed a sketch in 1819, from a very similar viewpoint to the one in Roberts's later drawing. Both these drawings show the features of the face having almost worn away. This is in contrast to Roberts' drawing of the same view, executed for the lithograph, in which he shows the features of the face more clearly defined and much easier to read. This watercolour was sold in these Rooms, 2 April 1996, lot 91. This later drawing was lithographed for The Holy Land. Egypt and Nubia, 1849, vol. II, pl. 47 as 'Fragments of the Great Colossi at the Memnonium, Thebes'.
We are grateful to Briony Llewellyn for her help in preparing this catalogue entry.