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Very Early Photographs of Muslim Holy Sites in Jerusalem

Pierotti, Ermete, Italian engineer, topographer and archaeologist (1820-1880). "Le Mont Moria". Album of original photographs and manuscript plans of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, February/March 1861.

Landscape folio (400 x 530 mm). Private album with 13 original albumenised salt prints by Mendel Diness (but the view of the Al-Aqsa Mosque taken by the Austrian photographer Othon von Ostheim), 4 original manuscript maps and plans in delicate hand-colour, and 2 large engraved or photographically reproduced plans. Presentation binding of contemporary "native" brown sheepskin. Smooth spine with simple wavy-line banding, sides with roll-tool border of foliate motifs and urns (in gilt on front, in blind on back) enclosing a single-line panel with scrolling corner pieces, gilt lettered on front cover.

Fascinating and important dedication album of original photographs and hand-coloured manuscript maps of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. Assembled by the Jerusalem-based archaeologist Ermete Pierotti for presentation to Edmond de Barrère (1819-90), the French consul general in Jerusalem, with Pierotti's (partially erased) inscription on the large map: "L'auteur á Monsieur [Consul de France], chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur".

Of the 13 photographs, 6 are devoted to the great Ayyubid Mosque of Omar and a further 2 to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Haram al-Sharif. The 4 manuscript maps and plans are delicately hand-coloured, finely detailed and extensively annotated, reflecting Pierotti's painstaking approach. They show Jerusalem, the Church of St Anne, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Greek Convent, and Bethlehem. The photo reproduction of the plan of Haram al-Sharif notes that the original was presented to the British consul James Finn.

Pierotti was a colourful figure of Palestine archaeology. A former captain in the Corps of Royal Piedmontese Army Engineers, he was appointed architect and engineer of Jerusalem by the Ottoman governor Sureyya Pasha in 1858, and "this gave him the opportunity to explore various places in the city, including the Haram al-Sharif, something which hardly any non-Muslims had done at the time" (Legouas). A respected authority who assisted British, French and Russian researchers and pilgrims during his time in Jerusalem, Pierotti was entrusted with important research commissions and stood in direct contact with the French consul. It is likely the present ensemble to which Pierotti referred in an autobiographical note (quoted by the French historian Legouas), stating that in 1856 he "had already placed in an album several plans, sections and photographs of Jerusalem, of which I had acquired part from Mr. Diness, and others had been given to me by Padre Andrea, a Franciscan amateur in photography." In 1857, he writes, "M. de Barrère, the French Consul, employed me in measuring the Church of St Anne and all the neighbouring ground, and ordered me to make a plan, sections, and levels on a large scale, which I did." Pierotti would draw on several of the photos here present for his 1864 book "Jerusalem Explored". All but one of them were contributed by the long-neglected Jewish photographer Mendel Diness (1827-1900), who today is hailed as one of the earliest photographers of Jerusalem, following the sensational rediscovery of some 130 of his glass negatives in 1989.

Spine sunned, some wear to extremities, large strip across back cover neatly repaired, large map of Jerusalem with old tape repairs on verso, some cockling where photographic prints have been mounted yet overall very good. Detailed list of contents available upon request.


Cf. Jean-Yves Legouas, "Saving Captain Pierotti?", in: Palestine Exploration Quarterly 145.3 [2013], pp. 231-250. Dror Wahrman, Capturing the Holy Land: M. J. Diness and the Beginnings of Photography in Jerusalem, Harvard, 1993.