A Description of a view of Thebes, now exhibiting at the Panorama, Broadway, corner of Prince and Mercer Streets, New-York


A schematic drawing shows the two halves of Burford’s Description of a View of the Great Temple of Karnak and the Surrounding City of Thebes: the top half depicts the Karnak Temple as a panoramic landscape, while the bottom half gives a panoramic view of Thebes. In the top half, the ruins of the Temple of Karnak recede into the background, the foreground occupied by a desertscape of men, horses, camels, and tents. In the bottom half, an entrance pylon (“Propylon”) to the city of Thebes occupies the center, flanked by the smaller ruins of buildings and another series of pylons to the far right. More horses and men are scattered throughout the scene.

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F71 CA Cutter

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Robert Burford produced a small pamphlet for each panorama he exhibited, containing a schematic drawing of the panoramic painting and a labeled guide to each of the sites in the image. This particular image was only produced in the context of Burford’s panorama pamphlets, and served as a guide to orient the visitor during a viewing of the actual panorama installation.
In 1829, Frederick Catherwood departed London for a second tour of Egypt and the Levant, where he would remain until 1835. Catherwood spent much of his time between 1832 and 1834 producing a detailed ground map of the Temple of Karnak and the city of Thebes; this map would form the basis for Burford and Catherwood’s panorama in 1839.

The Temple of Karnak is a large, ancient Egyptian temple complex located outside of Luxor, Egypt. It was constructed on and added to over a period of centuries by a number of Egyptian pharaohs. Karnak was the theological center of the Egyptian Empire, particularly during the New Kingdom (ca. 1500-1000 BC). The site has long been a popular destination for European travelers (particularly in the nineteenth century), and was the subject of several travel paintings and illustrations, most notably those by British painter David Roberts and British architect Frederick Catherwood.


Thebes is the Greek name for the ancient Egyptian city of Waset, the capital of the ancient Egyptian Empire for a portion of the eleventh dynasty and, most notably, during the entire eighteenth dynasty. The ruins of the city, located near the modern city of Luxor, were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

The Broadway Panorama

The Broadway Panorama (the "Catherwood Panorama," or the "Catherwood Rotunda") was a rotunda building designed by Frederick Catherwood; it was used to exhibit panoramic paintings and a collection of Mexican antiquities in New York City between 1838 and 1842. In 1838, Frederick Catherwood moved to New York from his native England, opened an architectural office on Wall Street, and designed one of the last, popular, stationary panoramas in the United States (Evans 53). Catherwood’s Panorama exhibited panoramic views constructed from his own drawings, most of which were produced by William Bullock. The inaugural showing exhibited Catherwood’s View of Jerusalem, which was followed by views of Niagara Falls, Lima, and Thebes (Comment 56). The Panorama doubled as an exhibition and storage space for much of Catherwood’s work from the Yucatán, including most of his original drawings, prints, and daguerreotypes. All of those objects were lost when the wooden building, which was uninsured, burned down on the evening of July 31, 1842 (Evans 73).
Frederick Catherwood produced a number of drawings of Karnak and Thebes during his time in Egypt, principally between 1831 and 1833. Almost all of these drawings are untitled, unpublished, and currently housed as Additional Manuscripts in the Manuscript Library of the British Museum in London. The best available reproductions of some of the drawings from Thebes, as well as others from Egypt, can be found in Von Hagen’s F. Catherwood (Barre, 1968).
This image, created by Robert Burford, gives panoramic views of both the Temple of Karnak and the city of Thebes. It was based upon the original drawings of Frederick Catherwood, unique in that they were created with the help of a camera lucida.
During the Romantic period, panoramas—particularly those of exotic places—emerged as a popular form of public entertainment (Comment 7-8). By the 1830s, Frederick Catherwood’s relationship with panorama proprietor Robert Burford, who converted many of his illustrations into panorma paintings, had established him as one of the premier travel artists of his day. This fact, together with Catherwood's unique and masterly use of the camera lucida, raises questions about the changing status of the camera lucida—an amateur device now in the hands of a world-famous professional artist—as well as about the tension between the use of the camera lucida to depict reality and its incorporation into the overwhelming visual experience of the panoramic landscape. 

When the Broadway Panorama burned down in 1842, all of Catherwood’s panoramic paintings, along with most of the original drawings, were destroyed. Consequently, no records of Catherwood’s panoramas exist outside of these drawings.
In its printed context, this image served a dual function. First, it acted as a printed advertisement for the Catherwood panorama in New York (particularly the panorama of Thebes). Second, the image served as a reference guide for the panorama patron, enabling them to locate the different sites depicted in the painting.
Burford, Robert, J. Burford, and W. Bullock. Description of a View of the City of Mexico, and Surrounding Country, Now Exhibiting in the Panorama, Leicester-Square. London, 1825. Print.

Burford, Robert, and Frederick Catherwood. Description of a View of the City of Jerusalem: And the Surrounding Country; Now Exhibiting at the Panorama, Charles Street. Boston: Perkins, 1837. Print.

Burford, Robert, and Frederick Catherwood. Description of a View of the Great Temple of Karnak, and the Surrounding City of Thebes, Now Exhibiting at the Panorama, Broadway, Corner of Prince and Mercer Streets, New-York. New-York, 1839. Print.

Comment, Bernard. The Panorama. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2004. Print.

Evans, R. Tripp. Romancing the Maya: Mexican Antiquity in the American Imagination, 1820-1915. Austin: U of Texas P, 2004. Print.

Hyde, Ralph. “Burford, Robert (1791–1861).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Web. 2 April 2009.

Stephens, John Lloyd. Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan. New York: Harper, 1841. Print.

Stephens, John Lloyd. Incidents of Travel in Yucatan. New York: Harper, 1843. Print.

Von Hagen, Victor Wolfgang. F. Catherwood, Architect-Explorer of Two Worlds. Barre: Barre, 1968. Print.
Description of a view of the great temple of Karnak, and the surrounding city of Thebes, now exhibiting at the panorama, Broadway ,corner of Prince and Mercer streets, New-York. Painted by Robert Burford, from drawings taken in 1834, by F. Catherwood