Mapping the Orient

Exhibition banner for The Lure of the East British Orientalist Painting at Tate Britain

From 1700 to 1925, the lure of the East drew Western-European travellers to the eastern Mediterranean in increasing numbers. While British Orientalist painters may have chosen to present a timeless ‘Orient’, this was a period in which the Middle East changed and developed as the Ottoman Empire itself waxed and waned. The map, photographs and city plans featured here explore some of the complexities of the region at a time when so many British artists chose to travel there.

The map projection shows some of the political fluctuations of the Middle East between the late seventeenth and early twentieth centuries, which affected those who travelled to, and within, the region. The four journeys highlighted here – that of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1716–18), Lord Byron (1809–11), David Roberts (1838–9) and Arthur Melville (1880–2) – also show how such developments as steamboat travel in the 1830s, the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the growth of railways in the latter half of the nineteenth century, all helped to open up the area to travellers – as did the growth of British diplomatic, commercial and military involvement in the Ottoman Empire.