Palestine and Jordan 1500 -1900
Works from the Hisham Khatib private collection

February – May 2005

Born in Acre in 1937, Dr. Hisham Khatib lived in Jerusalem until 1974. He knows well Palestine’s historic and cultural heritage, the magnificence and beauty of its landscape, the symbol it represents deeply embedded in the Arab mind. For thirty years, he patiently and professionally collected works of art, manuscripts, maps and books from all over the world, documenting the region under the Ottomans. Starting with Jerusalem, his collection extended to the whole of Palestine, Egypt, and to the ancient Nabatean city of Petra.

This unique collection includes hundreds of water color and oil paintings, thousands of etchings, lithographs and engravings, numerous photographs, as well as, maps, atlases and valuable plate books. It is Dr. Khatib's extensive knowledge of the antiquities and topography of the place that played a pivotal role in finding and acquiring valuable and rare pieces.

Dr. Khatib is an intellectual, engineer, economist of renowned international reputation and a consultant to many local and international organizations. He was a Minister of Energy, Water and Planning in many Jordanian cabinets. For 44 years he dealt with different aspects of engineering, technology, environment and human development in the Arab region and other developing countries. Dr. Khatib is also an expert historian and a collector of art, with many publications on the subject, such as his book "Palestine and Egypt under the Ottomans", which is published in Jordan, Cairo, London and New York. He is also the Honorary Vice Chairman of the World Energy Council, Head of the Management Committee of the Arab Thought Forum. He is a member of many international and regional committees on energy, environment and technology including the UN CSTD, World Federation of Scientists and other Middle East and Holy Land Studies and Travel Societies.

Dr. Khatib is one of the very few non-Americans to be mentioned in the biographical reference "American Men and Women of Science". He has been decorated in Jordan, Indonesia, Italy, Austria, Sweden and the Vatican.

The richness of the collection is attributed to Dr. Khatib's knowledge, persistence and patience. The content and variety of the collection provide priceless documentary and historical value, most of which records life, monuments, people and customs as it existed during the Ottoman period; and testifies to the richness of the place through the interaction of the indigenous population, and dynamic daily life stretching over hundreds and thousands of years.

The Khalid Shoman Foundation - Darat al Funun, believing in the importance of preserving our cultural heritage, our past and our history, is proud today to honor Dr. Hisham Khatib's dedication and invite the public to view and appreciate this exceptional valuable collection.

Palestine & Jordan 1500-1900

Ica Wahbeh - The Jordan Times Weekender

February 2005

From holding quite a few ministerial portfolios to becoming the possessor of a great collection seems to have come easy to Dr Hisham Khatib. But it took 30 years of "serious" research, collecting and reviewing to make him the owner of "one of the largest collections still in private hands".

Born in Acre, Palestine, he lived in Jerusalem until 1974. It is understandable, then, that he should show interest in the heritage of the Holy Land, collecting books, atlases, works of art, manuscripts and maps documenting Jerusalem and the region.

Due to their "affordability", many items in his collection are on Egypt; one third, according to the collector who says that "there is a very strong relationship, historically, between collecting things on Egypt and the Holy Land", as travelers' itineraries often included Egypt, the main destination for most, and Palestine afterwards.

Of the several hundred paintings, mostly water colour, hundreds of travel books, thousands of engravings and rare prints, at least 1,000 19th century original photographs and hundreds of postcards which form his collection, Khatib exhibits some at the Darat Al Funun that believes "in the importance of preserving our cultural heritage, our past and our history".

The exhibition is exceptional and offers a rare record of "scenes and objects as they existed during the Ottoman period, particularly in the last hundred years of the four centuries of Ottoman rule in the Holy Land (1516-1917)". The collector's interest was mainly in topography of the place, "so I have generally not collected imaginative scenes of the Orient and its people, particularly those exotic Orientalist scenes of the harem and to a lesser extend the suqs and colourful carpet sellers".

Through knowledge, patience and persistence, this active member in many international and regional committees  Hashemite Jordanian Fund for Human Development, Royal Scientific Society for the Conservation of Nature, UN Committee on Science and Technology, International Federation of Scientists, honourary vice-chairman of the World Energy Council, the Association for the Study of Travellers to Egypt and the Near East  also finds time to work for the Global Environmental Facility, that protects and finances environmental projects all over the world and "has a strong presence in Jordan", and search the Internet "which opened up a new realm" and facilitates his research of artists and museums.

While the collection is an inestimable offering of documents of historical value, it also offers glimpses into the life and customs of people and records monuments that have long disappeared. Among the paintings, watercolours seem to have been the preferred mode of capturing images. It took less time than oil painting and was more expeditious in case the local community would decide to "hinder" the work of the foreign artist.

Since more travelers and artists to the Holy Land were Britons, most of the paintings in Khatib's collection are watercolours by 19th century British artists who were, in most cases, interested in the Biblical history of the area and whose works, as a result, were recordings of Biblical background. "Whereas exotic views and artistic flights of fantasy figured in paintings of Egypt and Turkey (the harem, places, hamams, etc.), a greater realism was applied to the Holy Land."

Not enough, though, to have two praying figures face the mihrab in the mosque, instead of having their back turned to it. It is proof, says the collector, that the painter would do sketches and then transplant some characters in different settings.

The items in the collection, exhibited both in the main building and in the Blue House, need hours of perusal, especially if interested in the area. The "panoramas" of Jerusalem show a walled city with the famous domes already built (some before repair work was carried out) and few if any construction outside the walls. They also show Western pilgrims in 1870, camped in tents, outside the walls of the city, mixing with the locals who are, probably, responsible for their transport and accommodation, judging by the laden horses they hold in short rein. Marketplaces bustling with life are rare, but they offer a glimpse at what life must have been.

The Dome of the Rock, the churches of Nativity, of Ascension, of the Holy Sepulcher, mosques, the famous Jerusalem gates, Via Dolorosa, and vast spaces around the Holy City abound. Whether in lithographs, paintings, books, photographs, Jerusalem is amply present, historical document and valuable point of reference.

Also present is the seascape, with Jaffa, Haifa, Acre, Tiberias, Dead Sea, "The Bay of Aqaba", beautifully captured mostly in paintings but also in photographs.

Most impressive are the two atlases, one, the Napoleon atlas, 120X70 cm, weighing 22 kg, executed by Pierre Jacotin, cartographer in Napoleon's army. It has 46 "plates", six on Palestine, 40 on Egypt. It is the firs time there are Arabic names in the atlas for which the survey was done in 1799, but which was printed in 1815 or 1818, almost ten years later. The other atlas, done by two British royal engineers (Conder and Kitchner) for the Palestine Exploration Fund 80 years later, contains more details and is, naturally, more accurate. It has 48 sheets, of which 17 on Palestine.

Equally informative are the travel books, especially the "valuable plate books", called so because lithographs and plate prints "dominate and descriptions are secondary, serving only to explain the plate, and not vice versa". Among those displayed are David Robert's "The Holy Land" (1842), Francis Spilsbury's "Picturesque Scenery in the Holy Land" (1803), Louis Forbin's "Voyage Dans Le Levant" (1823) and W.H. Batlett's "Views Illustrating the Topography of Jerusalem" (1850).

In Lugi Mayer's "Views in Palestine" (1804), the interested can read: "The west end of the church is called the temple of the resurrection, and of the holy sepulcher. This is of a circular form, with cloisters below and above, supported by large square pillars. Great part of the lower cloister is divided into separate chapels for the abyssinians, jacobites, copts, georgians, and maronites; and over the first of these is one for the armenians. The whole is covered with a cupola, supported by rafters or cedar, all of one piece, and open at the top like the Pantheon at Rome." On the opposite page there is a coloured representation of a Maronite monk and pilgrims.

Interesting reading, great point of reference.Fascinating are the representations of Petra. A manuscript map, "first ever English map of Petra" executed c. 1830 by Leon de Laborde is accompanied by watercolours, photographs and lithographs of the Nabataean city. One of David Robert's lithographs shows a bridge spanning two constructions hewn in rock (possibly in the Siq's walls, judging from the narrowness of the space) that is not anymore. A Frith photograph of the Treasury (1859) documents a collapsed pillar now restored.

The exhibition at this "excellent facility for promoting culture and art in Jordan" is a rare opportunity to see part of an amazing collection.