Rare coloured pictures of the Holy Land unearthed in Yorkshire

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Nineteenth century books containing the first detailed coloured images of the Holy Land ever to be published in the West, in 1842, have recently been found in the Yorkshire Museum Library. The books were found by volunteers whilst they were cataloguing the museum’s library. They consist of a complete version of The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia by David Roberts. The volume contains hand-coloured lithographs of Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem, which he took during his visit to the Holy Land in 1938-39.

Roberts (1796-1864) was born in Edinburgh and was the first person to travel to the Holy Land with the specific intention to paint Christian sites, such as the Church of nativity in Bethlehem and the ancient city of Jerusalem, with a view to thereafter selling them in Britain.

The book was first published in 1842 and Roberts’s works were reproduced on a large scale and in colour. They were considerably expensive to produce and only 400 copies of the first edition were made. His project was, nevertheless, very successful and there was considerable demand for his books. Both Queen Victoria and the Tsar of Russia notably purchased copies. It was edited a second time in New York in 1855.

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