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Reflections of Heaven on Earth

Eastern Architecture through Western Eyes

The Alhambra anticipates our final theme, which like the exhibition in the Hermitage Rooms, focuses on the interaction between East and West. Here are six fine photographs, all albumen prints from wet colliodion negatives, taken in the 1850s and 1860s. All are by famous British photographers who either based themselves in, or made extended visits to, the Near East to photograph Islamic architecture.

1. and 2. Both photographs show the beautiful 16th century Mosque of Suliman at Istanbul. Both were taken by James Robertson in the early 1850s. His signature is clear on the first, and his distinctive writing, identifying the building, is clear on the second photograph. Robertson, an engraver by profession, went to Istanbul to run the Turkish mint in 1840. Around 1850, he became fascinated by the new medium of photography. He went into business with his brother-in-law, the Venetian-born Felice Beato, and together they photographed monuments in Egypt, Malta and the Holy Land. Like Roger Fenton, they also recorded the Crimean War in photographs.

3. and 4. These two photographs, a general view and a detail of the An-Nasir Mohammed Mosque in Cairo, were taken by Frank Mason Good, probably in 1865. His signature can be seen clearly in the bottom right hand corner. The mosque, which was built in the 1330s was in a parlous state, and Good's evocative photographs capture the dome collapsing like a souffle, and the rich stucco calligraphy and arabesques of the minaret pealing off to reveal the brick beneath.

5. and 6. These two photographs were taken in 1862 by Francis Bedford, when he accompanied the Prince of Wales on an expedition to view and record, in the still-new medium of photography, the buildings of the Holy Lands. The first is a fine view of the court of the Great Mosque, or Mosque of the Ummayeds, at Damascus, with one of the ablution fountains in the distance. This is a complex building, which, from the 8th century, transformed a 4th century Theodosian church into one of the greatest of mosques. The second of Bedford's photographs shows the Pulpit of Quadi Burhan ad din just outside the Mosque of Omar, the Dome of the Rock, at Jerusalem. This Islamic building too is constructed from fragments of other periods and arts, in this case, both classical and crusader.

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