A Description of a view of Thebes, now exhibiting at the Panorama, Broadway, corner of Prince and Mercer Streets, New-York


A schematic drawing shows the two halves of Burford’s Description of a View of the Great Temple of Karnak and the Surrounding City of Thebes: the top half depicts the Karnak Temple as a panoramic landscape, while the bottom half gives a panoramic view of Thebes. In the top half, the ruins of the Temple of Karnak recede into the background, the foreground occupied by a desertscape of men, horses, camels, and tents. In the bottom half, an entrance pylon (“Propylon”) to the city of Thebes occupies the center, flanked by the smaller ruins of buildings and another series of pylons to the far right. More horses and men are scattered throughout the scene.

Accession Number: 

F71 CA Cutter

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Printing Context: 

Robert Burford produced a small pamphlet for each panorama he exhibited, containing a schematic drawing of the panoramic painting and a labeled guide to each of the sites in the image. This particular image was only produced in the context of Burford’s panorama pamphlets, and served as a guide to orient the visitor during a viewing of the actual panorama installation.

Associated Events: 

In 1829, Frederick Catherwood departed London for a second tour of Egypt and the Levant, where he would remain until 1835. Catherwood spent much of his time between 1832 and 1834 producing a detailed ground map of the Temple of Karnak and the city of Thebes; this map would form the basis for Burford and Catherwood’s panorama in 1839.

Associated People: 

Robert Burford (1791-1861) 

Robert Burford, a British panorama painter and proprietor, was the son of John Burford, also a panorama proprietor. The two worked for Robert Barker, inventor of the panorama, and by 1824 the Burfords managed both the Leicester Square Panorama and the Strand Panorama in London. Following John Burford’s death in 1827, Robert Burford managed both panoramas himself (Hyde). Burford was also largely responsible for the drawings used as bases for the larger paintings, and produced many of the paintings himself, especially those of European cities. As the desire of European audiences for more exotic spectacles grew, Burford began incorporating the works of other artists from more distant locales. Burford’s principal painter was Henry Courtney Selous, who painted over forty canvases for Burford between 1829 and 1834. Among other artists Burford worked with were the explorers Captain John Ross and Lieutenant William H. Browne, who supplied drawings of Boothia and the polar regions, respectively; Augustus Earle provided drawings of Hobart, Sydney, and the Bay of Islands, New Zealand; William Bullock, the British collector of Mexican antiquities, exhibited a panorama of Mexico City and David Roberts, the famous British painter of the Near East and Egypt, provided drawings of Cairo (Burford, ).

Frederick Catherwood, upon his return from the Near East, also provided Burford with a number of drawings, among them Jerusalem and Thebes (Burford, Charles Street; Burford, Broadway; Hyde). Catherwood’s Jerusalem caught the attention of American explorer and diplomat John Lloyd Stephens in 1838, resulting in Catherwood and Stephens’ eventual collaboration on explorations in the Yucatán (Stephens, Central America; Stephens, Yucatan). Capitalizing on the opportunity to expand his enterprise, Burford encouraged Catherwood to open his own panorama in New York in 1838 (Comment 56). Catherwood designed, constructed, and funded the building on Broadway. For exhibition, Burford sold Catherwood a number of canvases (among them Thebes, Lima, and Niagara Falls), and Stephens used a second exhibition space in the building to display artifacts and visual documentation from the pair’s travels in Mexico and Central America (Comment 56). The building burned down in 1842, resulting in the loss of all of Burford’s panoramas (including the Jerusalem painting, which contained the only known likeness of Catherwood) and all of Catherwood's photographs (Comment 56).

The loss of the New York panorama forced Burford to turn his attention back to London. Starting in the 1850s, Burford was able to capitalize on the nascent medium of photography as the basis for some of his paintings, such as Sevastopol and Canton (Hyde). Nevertheless, the popularity of the panoramas was suffering by the mid-1800s. Burford converted the Strand Panorama into the Strand Theater, but little could offset the dwindling profits, and the Strand Theater, as well as Burford’s painting room in Camden Town, were put up for auction in 1857 (Hyde). Burford died in his home on January 30, 1861, less than three years before the Leciester Panorama was closed permanently on December 12, 1863 (Hyde).

Frederick Catherwood (1799-1854)

Frederick Catherwood was a British architect, artist, and archaeological illustrator whose drawings and paintings of Maya sites in the Yucatán peninsula are primarily responsible for the entry of Maya archaeology into American and European visual consciousness. Of Irish and Scottish ancestry, Catherwood was born on February 27, 1799 in Charles Square, Hoxton (a suburb of London). In his youth, he attended Haberdasher’s School in London, studying Linguistics and Grammar (Bourbon 13). In 1820, Catherwood enrolled in the Royal Academy of Arts, taking classes with Henry Fuseli, William Turner, and John Soane. After finishing his studies, Catherwood took a series of journeys around the Mediterranean, visiting Italy, Greece, Syria, and Egypt, and returning to London in 1826 (Bourbon 24). Catherwood made a return trip to Egypt and the Levant for six years (1829-1835), where he produced a large series of archaeological drawings of ancient Egyptian sites, establishing his prominence as one of the world’s foremost archaeological illustrators at that time.

One of Catherwood’s drawings from this journey, View of Jerusalem, was exhibited by William Burford as a panorama at Leicester Square in 1836, where it was seen by an American lawyer and explorer, John Lloyd Stephens. After Burford arranged their meeting, Stephens and Catherwood formed an immediate friendship. Catherwood returned to New York with Stephens, and in 1839 President Martin van Buren appointed Stephens Special Ambassador to Central America. Stephens used this opportunity to launch an archaeological expedition to the region, with Catherwood as his artist and illustrator; the goal of the expedition was not simply to record sites in the Yucatán but, by doing so, to claim them as cultural property for the American government.  Using a camera lucida for much of his work, Catherwood’s drawings and sketches from these expeditions were the first representations of Maya art and architecture to gain widespread popular appeal in the United States and Europe. Catherwood’s many illustrations were featured prominently in Stephens’ two books, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan (1841) and Incidents of Travel in Yucatan (1843). In 1844, Catherwood produced his own lavish series of colored prints of Maya sites, Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, which was published in a limited edition of three hundred copies in New York and London, of which 282 are known to survive.

Following their travels to the Yucatán, Catherwood spent the next eight years on book tours in Europe, assisting with Stephen’s creation of the Panama Railroad Company in 1848, and finally ending up in San Francisco as a consultant to a mining company at the height of the California Gold Rush. Stephens died in Panama in 1852. In 1854 Catherwood made plans to return to Europe to oversee the European re-print of Incidents of Travel; during the return voyage, however, the ship (the SS Arctic) was rammed by a French vessel in the waters off Newfoundland. Catherwood died in the accident on September 27, 1854.

Associated Places: 


The Temple of Karnak is a large, ancient Egyptian temple complex located outside of Luxor, Egypt. It was constructed on and added to over a period of centuries by a number of Egyptian pharaohs. Karnak was the theological center of the Egyptian Empire, particularly during the New Kingdom (ca. 1500-1000 BC). The site has long been a popular destination for European travelers (particularly in the nineteenth century), and was the subject of several travel paintings and illustrations, most notably those by British painter David Roberts and British architect Frederick Catherwood.


Thebes is the Greek name for the ancient Egyptian city of Waset, the capital of the ancient Egyptian Empire for a portion of the eleventh dynasty and, most notably, during the entire eighteenth dynasty. The ruins of the city, located near the modern city of Luxor, were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

The Broadway Panorama

The Broadway Panorama (the "Catherwood Panorama," or the "Catherwood Rotunda") was a rotunda building designed by Frederick Catherwood; it was used to exhibit panoramic paintings and a collection of Mexican antiquities in New York City between 1838 and 1842. In 1838, Frederick Catherwood moved to New York from his native England, opened an architectural office on Wall Street, and designed one of the last, popular, stationary panoramas in the United States (Evans 53). Catherwood’s Panorama exhibited panoramic views constructed from his own drawings, most of which were produced by William Bullock. The inaugural showing exhibited Catherwood’s View of Jerusalem, which was followed by views of Niagara Falls, Lima, and Thebes (Comment 56). The Panorama doubled as an exhibition and storage space for much of Catherwood’s work from the Yucatán, including most of his original drawings, prints, and daguerreotypes. All of those objects were lost when the wooden building, which was uninsured, burned down on the evening of July 31, 1842 (Evans 73).

Associated Texts: 

Frederick Catherwood produced a number of drawings of Karnak and Thebes during his time in Egypt, principally between 1831 and 1833. Almost all of these drawings are untitled, unpublished, and currently housed as Additional Manuscripts in the Manuscript Library of the British Museum in London. The best available reproductions of some of the drawings from Thebes, as well as others from Egypt, can be found in Von Hagen’s F. Catherwood (Barre, 1968).


This image, created by Robert Burford, gives panoramic views of both the Temple of Karnak and the city of Thebes. It was based upon the original drawings of Frederick Catherwood, unique in that they were created with the help of a camera lucida.


During the Romantic period, panoramas—particularly those of exotic places—emerged as a popular form of public entertainment (Comment 7-8). By the 1830s, Frederick Catherwood’s relationship with panorama proprietor Robert Burford, who converted many of his illustrations into panorma paintings, had established him as one of the premier travel artists of his day. This fact, together with Catherwood's unique and masterly use of the camera lucida, raises questions about the changing status of the camera lucida—an amateur device now in the hands of a world-famous professional artist—as well as about the tension between the use of the camera lucida to depict reality and its incorporation into the overwhelming visual experience of the panoramic landscape. 

When the Broadway Panorama burned down in 1842, all of Catherwood’s panoramic paintings, along with most of the original drawings, were destroyed. Consequently, no records of Catherwood’s panoramas exist outside of these drawings.


In its printed context, this image served a dual function. First, it acted as a printed advertisement for the Catherwood panorama in New York (particularly the panorama of Thebes). Second, the image served as a reference guide for the panorama patron, enabling them to locate the different sites depicted in the painting.


Burford, Robert, J. Burford, and W. Bullock. Description of a View of the City of Mexico, and Surrounding Country, Now Exhibiting in the Panorama, Leicester-Square. London, 1825. Print.

Burford, Robert, and Frederick Catherwood. Description of a View of the City of Jerusalem: And the Surrounding Country; Now Exhibiting at the Panorama, Charles Street. Boston: Perkins, 1837. Print.

Burford, Robert, and Frederick Catherwood. Description of a View of the Great Temple of Karnak, and the Surrounding City of Thebes, Now Exhibiting at the Panorama, Broadway, Corner of Prince and Mercer Streets, New-York. New-York, 1839. Print.

Comment, Bernard. The Panorama. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2004. Print.

Evans, R. Tripp. Romancing the Maya: Mexican Antiquity in the American Imagination, 1820-1915. Austin: U of Texas P, 2004. Print.

Hyde, Ralph. “Burford, Robert (1791–1861).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Web. 2 April 2009.

Stephens, John Lloyd. Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan. New York: Harper, 1841. Print.

Stephens, John Lloyd. Incidents of Travel in Yucatan. New York: Harper, 1843. Print.

Von Hagen, Victor Wolfgang. F. Catherwood, Architect-Explorer of Two Worlds. Barre: Barre, 1968. Print.

Long Title: 

Description of a view of the great temple of Karnak, and the surrounding city of Thebes, now exhibiting at the panorama, Broadway ,corner of Prince and Mercer streets, New-York. Painted by Robert Burford, from drawings taken in 1834, by F. Catherwood