1695 / 1740 Gerard Hofstede van Essen Panorama of Palmyra, Syria

A View of the Ruines of Palmyra alias Tadmor, taken on the Southern Side. - Main View

1695 / 1740 Gerard Hofstede van Essen Panorama of Palmyra, Syria


First European View of the Ancient City of Palmyra.


A View of the Ruines of Palmyra alias Tadmor, taken on the Southern Side.
  1695 (undated)     6 x 28 in (15.24 x 71.12 cm)


This fascinating 1695 engraving is the first published view of the ruined city of Palmyra, in Syria. It captures the first extended visit to Palmyra by Western European explorers, undertaken in 1691 by British cleric William Halifax. The view is understood to be the work of Gerard Hofstede van Essen, a German-born Dutch artist who lived and worked in Aleppo at the end of the 17th century.
The Halifax Expedition
Hofstede is believed to have accompanied the Halifax expedition, which left Aleppo on September 29, 1691, arrived in Palmyra on October 4, staying until October 8: plenty of time for Hofstede to execute his drawings of the dramatic ruins. The composition is a sophisticated view - a panorama allowing the viewer to see specific prospects as if from one position, focusing on key architectural landmarks along the itinerary of the British expedition. It presents the viewer with a veritable forest of classical columns and ruins, bracketed by the Temple of Baal on the far left and the medieval fortress Qalaat Shirkuh on the right. The engraving is the first published view of Palmyra. Hofstede executed a monumental, thirteen-foot-long painted version of the panorama, which he not only signed, but in which he also included a depiction of himself. The painting was commissioned by Gisbert Cuper, mayor of Deventer and a prominent Dutch intellectual. Hofstede painted the view in Aleppo and sent it to his patron in Amsterdam in 1693; the painting is now the property of the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam. Barring the great difference in scale, the content of the painting is identical to that of the present engraving, and it is plain that both are derived from the same drawings. This image was widely copied, providing the basis for all other views of the city until the middle of the eighteenth century.
Attempts to Reach Palmyra
The 1691 expedition was the second European journey to Palmyra. A group of British merchants from the British Levant Company in Aleppo had spotted the rumored lost city of Palmyra once before in 1678, but were waylaid by the local Sheikh and were sent back to Aleppo shorn of their possessions. Two of the merchants on that expedition - Timothy Lanoy and Aaron Goodyear - would travel with Halifax on the successful 1691 attempt. Lanoy and Goodyear published an account of both journeys in the 1695 Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society; their account featured the engraving of Hofstede's view of the ruined city.
A Storied City
Though Palmyra (Arabic: تَدْمُر‎ Tadmur) possessed an ancient history dating to the early second millennium BCE, by the 17th century it was practically unknown to the west. Palmyra does appear in glimpses on early maps; the 1660 Jansson for example shows a 'Palmyrena.' It is probable that its appearance on any western maps is derived from sources in the classical period, during which the city was a prosperous regional center, thriving as a caravan city with ties to the Silk Road. Palmyra was at its most powerful in the 260s CE following the Palmyrene King Odaenathus' defeat of Persian Emperor Shapur I, and the king's succession by Queen Zenobia, who rebelled against Rome and established the Palmyrene Empire. This did not work out well. In 273, Roman emperor Aurelian reduced the city. Palmyra converted to Christianity during the fourth century, and to Islam under the 7th-century Rashidun Caliphate. By the 17th century, the city had been reduced by the Timurids in 1400 to a small village, its monuments and temples all but forgotten. Travelers in Aleppo, however, described the ruins of the ancient metropolis surrounded by monumental tombs, attracting the attention of the western scholars and travelers. Lanoy and Goodyear's account, followed by Robert Wood's 1753 The Ruins of Palmyra captured the attention of the learned public in both England and France, leading to an upsurge in classical taste in both countries. The site remains an archaeological treasure, despite widespread destruction resultant to the Syrian Civil War. Some of this destruction was deliberate: in an egregious example, the temple of Baal, dedicated in 32 CE, was reduced to rubble by Islamic State in 2015.
Publication History and Census
Hofstede's view was first printed accompanying the Lanoy and Goodyear account published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Volume 19 Issue 218, 1695, exhibiting at least two different paginations. It appeared again, unchanged barring the pagination, in Abednego Sellers' 1696 The Antiquities of Palmyra; Cornelis De Bruyn copied the detail from Hofstede's view for his own 1698 panorama of the ruins. The original plates were used again when Lanoy and Goodyear were reprinted in Miscellanea curiosa, (2nd ed. London: Smith, 1708). The plates were used yet again in An Universal History, from the Earliest Account of Time to the Present (Osborne, T. London) 1740-7. This example corresponds to those we have seen in that work. Despite the popularity of the topic and the long publishing history, we see no separate examples of this view catalogued in institutional collections.


Gerard Hofstede van Essen (fl. 1690-1720) was a German/Dutch artist and traveler, active in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. He is only known by a handful of works attributed to him: views of Persepoli, Isfahan, and Naqsh-i Rustam in Iran; his c. 1713 'A Prospect of Constantinople;' his 1693 painted view of the newly-discovered ruins of Palmyra, and the printed view based on his own life-drawing of those ruins. Hofstede is understood to have accompanied William Halifax's 1691 expedition to Palmyra from Aleppo, where Hofstede was living at the time. Learn More...


Osborne, T. An Universal History, from the Earliest Account of Time to the Present (London) 1740 - 1747.    


Very good. Printed to two sheets and joined as issued, with some resultant wrinkling. Else excellent with a bold, sharp strike.


OCLC 33851081. (Bound in 1708 Miscellany)