Heba Sheta


After the French expedition to Egypt in 1798, travelers tempted to discover this newly revealed land. European orientalist painters, when in Cairo, encountered an exotic culture. They documented Islamic architecture, as well as religious and social traditions and rituals. Their paintings became as tableaux vivants such as the oriental settings in universal fairs in the 19th century. These painters could be classified into two different groups. On the one hand, a group of painters focused on the documentation of Islamic monuments with their decorative and architectural features. Most of these European painters resided in Egypt for many years, and sometimes worked for the state. They compiled their paintings in volumes such as the collection of Egypt and Nubia by David Roberts, L’art arabe by Prisse d’Avennes, Architecture arabe, ou, monuments du Caire by Pascal Coste and The Illustrations of Cairo by Robert Hay. On the other hand, another group of painters represented religious and social traditions of the Muslims they encountered in Cairo. Local inhabitants became the focal point in the paintings of this group. They are embedded into an Islamic setting. This latter was used to convince the Western audience with their perception of the Oriental lifestyle, or sometimes was modified to fit the represented portraits. Some of the painters of this group had commonly a short stay in Egypt. Usually, their paintings were not compiled in volumes. They aimed to display their paintings for sale in le Salon de Paris and the Royal Academy; thus, they were exhibited separately. Among them are Jean-Léon Gérôme, John Frederick Lewis, Henri-Léopold Lévy and Le Comte du Nouy.


Arab & Islamic Civilizations Department

Degree Name

MA in Arabic Studies

Graduation Date


Submission Date

January 2018

First Advisor

O'Kane, Bernard

Committee Member 1

Kenney, Ellen

Committee Member 2

Karim, Chahinda


208 p.

Document Type

Master's Thesis


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I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Dr. Bernard O’Kane for his guidance and patience throughout the years of my study. I would also like to thank Dr. Ellen Kenney for inspiring me with the idea of my thesis when I attended her course of “On Display”; this is how I became interested in the idea of exhibiting and collecting art objects. I am grateful that Dr. Chahinda Karim was one of my thesis readers, I benefited from her experience and knowledge. I must express my gratefulness to Dr. Dina Bakhoum for she inspired me to explore travel books of the 19th century in the Rare Books and Special Collections Library at AUC. Professors Tarek Swelim and Maximiliane Zoller deserve special thanks for their support and insights. I would also like to thank Ola Seif, curator of the photographic collections in the Rare Books Library for her assistance and guidance. I am very fortunate to have met prominent scholars in Arabic and Islamic civilizations at the ASTENE Twelfth Biennial Conference in Norwich in summer 2017. I would like to express my gratitude to Dr. Caroline Williams and Dr. Briony Llewellyn. I have benefited immensely from their discussions and advice. Special thanks to Dr. Mercedes Volait for receiving me at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and for the precious conversation we had about travelers in Cairo. Special thanks to all my friends and classmates in the department of Islamic Art and Architecture at AUC for the fruitful and humorous moments we spent together throughout my years of study. Special thanks to Dalia al-Nashar and Amina Karam for the conversations and for their accompaniment to sites while writing my thesis. I owe special thanks to Mrs. Marwa Sabri for her continuous help and support. This thesis would have never been completed without the help and encouragement of my friends and family especially my mother, Suzen Ali, and my brother, Amr Sheta, who took care of my daughters during my late classes. I would like to express my deepest gratitude to my husband, Achraf el-Gheriany, and my little daughters, Jamila and Layla, for their love and patience.