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Cities of Stone
The European fascination with antiquity had at that time fastened on Egypt. Dominique Vivant-Denon, an artist and archaeologist in the company of Napoleon's Egyptian campaign, had published his Voyage dans la Basse- et Haute-Egypte in 1802, supplying in his engravings a dictionary of ready-made ornament that was avidly seized on by the craftsmen of the time. The rage for the "Egyptian Taste" in England was at its height, and in Egypt Catherwood found a group of young Englishmen busily pursuing "antiquarian studies" among the ruins. In the company of two of his former classmates from the Royal Academy, he chartered a river-boat and spent a year drawing and surveying the ruins along the Nile.
Catherwood returned to England in 1826 to practice architecture with some modest degree of success. It was during this time that he exhibited several of his Egyptian sketches at the Royal Academy and sold several others to P. F. Robinson's Egyptian Hall in Picadilly. But London failed to hold his interest, and after three years he accepted the offer of Robert Hay to take part in the first scientific exploration of the ruins along the Nile since the turn of the century. Catherwood's association with the expedition was to last four years, the expedition itself ten.
In 1833 Catherwood made his way back to Cairo, where he was engaged by Mohammed All to repair the mosques of that city and teach architecture at its university. After discharging these duties, he then set out to explore the Levant and Arabia Petraea in the company of his friends Joseph Bonomi and Francis Arundale. Tracing a route similar to that of Stephens three years later, the trio went west across the Sinai and then turned northward to Jerusalem.
The two months the party spent in Jerusalem were a frenzy of activity for Catherwood. He sketched and painted the city from every angle, and prepared a map of it that he published in London the year after his return. (This was the map used by Stephens in his exploration of the city in 1836.) The party left Jerusalem near the end of 1833, still heading roughly northward. Catherwood and Arundale continued on into Lebanon, where Catherwood recorded the ruined Roman buildings of the ancient city of Baalbec. These drawings were later used to prepare a panoramic canvas of the ruins was exhibited throughout the world.
Catherwood returned to London in 1834, intent on putting the huge mass of material that he had accumulated in the Middle East to practical use. He contracted with Robert Burford, the owner of Burford's Panorama in Leicester Square, for the use of his drawings in Burford's Panorama of Jerusalem. Historical predecessors of the modern travel film, panoramas were huge continuous painted canvases many times wider than high. They were exhibited in large circular buildings constructed specifically for that purpose or, at times, the paintings were scrolled horizontally before the audience, giving the impression to the viewer that he was actually moving through the scene depicted. Panoramas of Thebes, Karnak, and Baalbec, painted by Burford "From drawings taken on the spot by F. Catherwood, Esq.," were to follow over the next few years.
It was at Burford's that Catherwood, lecturing before the Panorama of Jerusalem, met John Lloyd Stephens, himself freshly arrived from travels in the Middle East. It is certain that the two had much to talk about. They had both traveled widely in Italy and Greece, and had followed virtually identical routes through Egypt and the Holy Land. (Stephens, while in Jerusalem, found Catherwood's map of the city "a better guide... than any other I could procure.") It was probably here, too, that their shared passion for antiquity led them to discuss the rumors of fantastic cities of stone hidden in the jungles of Mexico and Central America.