The Rising of the Nile by Roberts, circa 1840s
The Rising of the Nile by David Roberts, engraved by Edward Goodall, circa 1840s.
Before the Aswan Dams were built in the twentieth century, the Nile River flooded annually. The inundation began in June and lasted until September. Ancient Egyptians developed the nilometer system, which was a pillar or series of steps calibrated in cubits that allowed the Egyptians to keep careful records of the height of the Nile. A good flood season was essential for crop production, because the rich silt deposits left behind by the flood waters determined how much food could be grown. The inundation was so important that the Ancient Egyptians erected temples to Hapi, god of the inundation, and other gods associated with the Nile. It was believed that the flood was Hapi himself coming to Egypt. Khnum, god of the cataracts who controlled the believed source of the Nile, was another important god connected to the flood season of Akhet. Khnum manipulated the Nile from caverns under Elephantine Island which was the first location to be affected by the inundation is it is near the first cataract.
David Roberts (1796-1864) was a Scottish painter specializing in Oriental themes. At ten he was apprenticed to a house decorator and in 1816 he was hired by the Pantheon Theater, Edinburgh, to work as an assistant scene painter. Three years later he was hired as the scene painter for the Theatre Royal. Roberts married actress Margret McLachlan, in 1820, and there daughter Christine was born the following year. During his time at the Theatre Royal he began to produce oil paintings, three of which were exhibited by the Fine Arts Institution in Edinburgh. In 1822 he moved to London to work at the Coburg Theatre. After spending some time there he worked with his friend Clarkson Stanfield (1793-1867) at the Royal Theatre, Drury Lane. The British Institution and the Society of British Artists exhibited some of his oil paintings in 1824, and by 1829 Roberts had given up scene painting to pursue a career as an artist. During the 1830s-40s he traveled extensively through Europe and the Near East, sketching the landscapes he encountered. The lithographs produced from his sketches of Egypt, Syria, and the Holy Land helped to create and promote his reputation as an Orientalist painter.
Edward Goodall (1794-1870) was an English engraver. He had been apprenticed to a London printer and developed into one of the country's best steel-line engravers. In 1818 he married Eliza Ann Le Petit, and they had several children together. Goodall was given permission by J. M. W. Turner to engrave as many of the artist's paintings as he liked. Eventually Goodall was one of only two engravers to be exclusively employed by Turner.