Edward Lear, The monastery of St Sabbas the Sanctified (Mar Saba), near Bethlehem.
Nnumbered, inscribed and dated ‘Deir Mar Sabbas./May 1.1858/Deir Mar Sabbas/(127)’ (lower right) and further inscribed with colour notes
pencil, pen and brown ink and watercolour on paper. 13¾ x 19¾ in. (35 x 50.2 cm.).
The Great Lavra of St Sabbas the Sanctified, known in Arabic as ‘Mar Saba’ is a Greek Orthodox monastery overlooking the Kidron Valley in the West Bank, east of Bethlehem.
Lear referred to his visit to Santa Saba in May 1858 in a letter to his sister dated 21 May and in one to Hallam Tennyson dated 18 September (R. Pitman, Edward Lear’s Tennyson, 1988, pp. 88-89). To his sister Ann he wrote that he executed ‘some good drawings’ of Santa Saba on 1 May 1858, despite the fact that ‘the whole place, even on May 1st was so like an oven that I felt as if I should be baked’. In the 1880s Lear returned to the subject of Santa Saba for an illustration to Tennyson’s poem The Palace of Art (op.cit., p. 89). A drawing of Santa Saba executed on 30 April 1858, showing the subject in different lighting, is in a private collection and another similar in size to the present picture, Mar Sabbas, numbered ‘122’ and dated 30 April 1858, is in the Houghton Library (R. Falchi and V. Wadsworth, Edward Lear, ex. cat., San Remo, 1997, p. 249).