Views of Egypt, Palestine and Syria

Collection History

The materials selected for the debut of this evolving digital collection include classics of illustrated travel and regional archaeology, as well as the Library's earliest works of photography in the Middle East region. In general, they came to the Library from the founding collections of the Astor and Lenox libraries; these institutions had in turn acquired many titles as contemporary illustrated publications of their time. The digital collection ranges to the turn of the last century when entrepreneurial photographers and publishers mass-produced handsome mounted photographs, custom albums, and elegant photo-mechanically printed books for the tourist. Most of the photographic compilations came to the Library as gifts from the descendents of the travelers whose journeys they evoke.


Monuments of ancient Egypt and the Biblical world figured prominently in the early years of photography. French Academician François Arago (1786-1853) endorsed the new medium in 1839 claiming it would provide a labor-saving means "to copy the millions and millions of hieroglyphics which entirely cover the great monuments at Thebes, Memphis and Carnac, etc." Immediately artist-travelers took chemicals, cameras, and photographic plates of metal, and later glass into the regions around the southeastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, to record the famous sights that had been known previously to Westerners only through the intervention of the artist's hand.

In addition to early photographic pioneers Du Camp, Salzmann, Robertson & Beato, and Frith, the collection includes work by image providers catering to tourist travelers in the last third of the 19th century, such as Arnoux, A. Beato, Bonfils, Lekegian, Sébah, and Zangaki. The selection offers resources for exploring Western impressions of the Middle East in that era through the lens of practitioners of the new medium of photography, and in turn through the expectations, preferences, and assumptions of its consumers.

Related Resources

Beelden van de Oriënt: fotografie en toerisme, 1860-1900 = Images of the Orient: Photography and Tourism, 1860-1900. (c1986)

Chevedden, Paul E. The Photographic Heritage of the Middle East: an Exhibition of Early Photographs of Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Greece, & Iran, 1849-1893. (c1981) Occasional papers on the Near East; OP 1/3.

Dewitz, Bodo von. An den süssen Ufern Asiens: Ägypten, Palästina, Osmanisches Reich: Reiseziele des 19. Jahrhunderts in frühen Photographien.(1988)

Evans, Elaine Altman. Scholars, Scoundrels, and the Sphinx: a Photographic and Archaeological Adventure Up the Nile. (2000)

Graham-Brown, Sarah. Images of Women: the Portrayal of Women in Photography of the Middle East, 1860-1950. (1988)

Howe, Kathleen Stewart. Excursions Along the Nile: the Photographic Discovery of Ancient Egypt. (c1993)

Jammes, Marie-Thérèse. En Egypte au temps de Flaubert: 1839-1860, les premiers photographes. ([1980])

L'Orientalisme: l'Orient des photographes au XIXe siècle. (c1994)

Perez, Nissan N. Focus East: Early Photography in the Near East, 1839-1885. (1988)

Vaczek, Louis Charles and Gail Buckland. Travelers in Ancient Lands: a Portrait of the Middle East, 1839-1919. (c1981)

Collection Data

Views of Egypt: Temple of Athor at Denderah: bas relief and hieroglyphs; columns with faces (?); 2 exterior views, one with figure; Temple of Typho at Denderah; Gizeh: figure standing on Sphinx; Pyramid of Chephren, other pyramids, left; Pyramid of Cheops (Great Pyramid); Karnak: Temple of Amenophis IV (Akhenaton) showing two sculptured figures, each partly destroyed; man at base of hieroglyph covered Ptolomaean portal of Temple of Ramses; Luxor: temple from west entrance; detail of obelisk in front of temple showing hieroglyphs, 2 men lower left; man in front of wall, obelisk and portal beyond; half-buried sculptured figures flank entrance, man, center; figure in portal of Temple of Midinet Abu; wall to left of portal showing base relief and hieroglyphs; Nile and Plain of Thebes, with mummified (?) remains in foreground. Views of Palestine: Church of the Nativity among the terraced hills, Bethlehem; stone buildings and walls, Bethany; Abraham's oak, Hebron; Joppa (Jaffa): burying ground, showing buildings, tents, camels, encampmemt; encampment outside gate of Joppa, people selling fruit (?), town beyond; Jeruselem: Golden Gate; exterior of Damascus Gate with figures near it; soldiers in interior of St. Stephen's Gate; Via Dolorosa from the west, looking up steep walk, Church of the Flagellation, left, orphan asylum and barracks, right; Pool of Hezekiah from the west, water in foreground, dome roof and minaret beyond; Mosque of Omar (Dome of the Rock) from the east; tombs of Zachariah and James built into mountainside; Pillar of Absalom; Tomb of the Virgin Mary. Views of Syria: Damascus: Mosque of suburb of el-Meidan near Cemetery showing minaret.
Bonfils, Félix, 1831-1885 (Photographer)
Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1867 - 1871 (Questionable)
Library locations
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection
Shelf locator: MFZ+ (Bonfils) 93-6261
Middle East
Egypt -- Antiquities & archaeological sites
Acquisition: Anonymous gift, 1981; Picture Collection transfer, 1986.
Statement of responsibility: Most signed and numbered in negative. Some signed twice, "F. Bonfils" and "Bonfils," each with a number, and the number under "F. Bonfils" has been made into 00. Titles taken from handwritten titles on back of mounts or photographs. Number that appears in negative (the one not made into 00) is entered in page number box.
Numbering: Views are numbered: 23, 32, 41-43, 41, 52, 55, 75-78, 81, 82, 84, 85, 87, 113, 123, 130, 136, 147, 153, 154, 161, 163, 165, 188, 232, 360.
Date: Date issued 1894.
Physical Description
Extent: 32 photographic prints : albumen, b&w ; 24 x 30 cm. or smaller
Pencilled captions in English, and occasionally in French, and negative numbers on verso. Accesion number written in Notes.
Albumen prints
Type of Resource
Still image
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b11755739
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): e7460070-c6c2-012f-a3f5-3c075448cc4b
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