Roberts, sometimes known as ‘the Scottish Canaletto’, painted this exotic scene of classical grandeur after an eleven month trip to the Middle East beginning in August 1838. He reached Baalbec, in Syria, on 2 May 1839. The sketches he made in the Holy Land kept him busy for ten years and acted as a source for this painting, which was made in his studio after his return to England. The colonnaded ruined temple, which is illuminated in bright sunlight, dominates the composition and dwarfs the tiny figures in and around it. This creates a sense of awe and sublimity.


  • Title: Baalbec - Ruins of the Temple of Bacchus
  • Creator: David Roberts
  • Creator Lifespan: 1796/1864
  • Creator Nationality: British
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Creator Death Place: London, England
  • Creator Birth Place: Stockbridge, Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Date Created: 1840
  • tag / style: David Roberts; Middle East; Syria; Baalbec; temple; Bacchus; ruins; classical; sunlight; sublime; Roman; Heliopolis; picturesque
  • Physical Dimensions: w1320 x h1822 cm (Without frame)
  • Artist biographical information: David Roberts was born in Edinburgh in 1796. His father, who was a shoe-maker, apprenticed him to a house-painter and decorator. At the end of seven years he found work as a scene painter with a travelling circus. He also worked for theatres in both Glasgow and Edinburgh. By the early 1820s he was in London working at Drury Lane Theatre, and then at Covent Garden. In 1824 he exhibited with the Society of British Artists. Two years later he was exhibiting at the Royal Academy. In 1830 he abandoned theatre work apart from designing scenery for several Charles Dickens’ productions. In 1841, the year after this picture was painted, he was elected to the Royal Academy. He was commissioned by Queen Victoria to paint the opening of the Great Exhibition in 1851. Roberts died in 1864. He was the first British artist to draw the ruins of Ancient Egypt. Even today his lithographs and paintings of Egypt are still popular and are frequently reproduced.
  • Additional artwork information: Modern Baalbek is a town in the Bekaa valley in Lebanon. It is famous for its massive and richly ornamented Roman temple ruins. When this area of the Middle East was part of the Roman Empire, Baalbek was known as Heliopolis. Baalbec has been designated a World Heritage site since 1984. There are three temples at Baalbec; the largest is the Temple of the Sun. It was the largest religious building in the entire Roman Empire, and was worked on for more than 50 years and never completed. Today there are only six Corinthian columns standing; eight others were dismantled by order of the Emperor Justinian and sent by boat to Constantinople [modern day Istanbul] to be used in the construction of the basilica Sancta Sophia. There are two lesser temples dedicated to Venus and Bacchus. The temple of Bacchus remains the best preserved of all. The site was shaken by three earthquakes in the 12th century and once again in 1759. Modern excavations were first made in 1898 by German archaeologists but European travellers had been visiting the picturesque ruins since the 18th century.
  • Type: Oil on canvas
  • Rights: Presented by the Brocklebank family in 1893

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