An e-book version of a coffee-table book.
Roberts, a Scottish artist of the 19th century, made his living and fame rendering sights in exotic locales as sketches and paintings that would be collected as lithographs in books. Much like the National Geographic of their day, his books gave readers a vicarious journey around the globe. This e-book presents a wealth of his Egyptian lithographs depicting mostly the sites of famous ruins—Luxor, Dendera, Karnak, Giza—as well as landscapes and cityscapes up and down the Nile, from Alexandria and into Nubia and Abyssinia. As thumbnails, some seem to be photographs, so exacting was Roberts’ technique. But this format enables readers to pinch and pull open the art to inspect the high-resolution scans in great detail. Doing so reveals the precision of the artist’s hand and his subtle and fine sense of color. The art is by far the most engaging element of the book. The text, based on letters and journal entries, is much less interesting (though well read by Simon Prebble). Those based on letters to his daughter have greater detail than the journal entries, many of which merely count the number of sketches undertaken that day. But even the letters remain mostly on the surface, categorizing movements of the day, sights seen, comforts and discomforts of the road, meals taken, plans for the next day—much like any ordinary tourist’s.
Fittingly, Robert’s favorite adjective in his writings is “picturesque.” Best to let his art speak for him.