Pearls to Pyramids: British Visual Culture and the Levant, 1600–1830

To complement The Lure of the East: British Orientalist Painting, the Center organized the exhibition Pearls to Pyramids: British Visual Culture and the Levant, 1600–1830, drawn from the collections of the Center, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, and other libraries at Yale University. This exhibition explored intersections between British visual culture and the countries of the eastern Mediterranean beginning in the early seventeenth century, when political and economic shifts enabled Britain to reassert itself as a dominant participant in the Mediterranean trade that had long been monopolized by Venice. The exhibition introduced the geographical and historical context of the Mediterranean trade with paintings by Peter Lely and the William van de Veldes (father and son), and through early travel accounts that both expressed and inspired fascination with Eastern societies. The impact of commodities such as coffee and silk was examined through prints, broadsides, and illustrated books. Selections from the Center’s diverse holdings reflected the burgeoning interest in the classical and biblical sites of the Near and Middle East that took hold in the eighteenth century, from works by Benjamin West and J. M. W. Turner to architectural drawings made during scholarly expeditions. The exhibition concluded with an examination of the increasingly militaristic cast to British presence in the Levant in the nineteenth century, beginning with visual responses to Nelson’s victory over Napoleon in Egypt.

View works from the collection included in this exhibition here.


Pearls to Pyramids: British Visual Culture and the Levant, 1600–1830 was curated by Eleanor Hughes, Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Center, with assistance from Sarah Kinkel, doctoral candidate in History at Yale University.

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Pearls to Pyramids: British Visual Culture and the Levant, 1600–1830 installation, Yale Center for British Art, photo by Richard Caspole