'Temple of Philae, Egypt' Orientalist painting by Koerner

By Koerner, Ernst Karl Eugen (German, 1846-1927)


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This large oil on canvas painting is by the German artist Ernest Karl Eugen Koerner. Koerner, much celebrated since his own day for his Orientalist paintings, visited Egypt several times between 1873 and 1905. Though this present work dates to 1923, the ideas underlying the composition likely date to much earlier in Koerner’s career.

The painting depicts the Temple Complex at Philae, an island in the Nile originally downstream of the First Cataract. Many of the buildings present in this painting date to the Hellenistic and Roman periods; at the centre of the composition is the Temple of Isis with its distinctive twin towers. Koerner portrays the Temple at sunset, the red raking light generating warm tonal contrasts that further emphasise the romance of the place.

The Temples on the island of Philae were moved brick-by-brick from the Island in the 1960s to the nearby island of Agilkia. In 1902, the Aswan Low Dam opened across the length of the First Cataract, increasing the upstream water level and shrinking the island of Philae. The height of the dam was increased twice in subsequent years so that, by the 1950s, the temples on the island were continuously partially submerged. UNESCO orchestrated the dismantling and moving of the temples to Agilkia, an operation that lasted a decade. Koerner’s painting is thus a remarkable image of a place that, while still existing, no longer exists as it once did.

The painting is signed and dated lower left ‘Ernst Koerner 1923’ and is held by a carved giltwood frame.

Frame: Height 114cm, width 157cm, depth 9cm
Canvas: Height 85cm, width 128cm


Artist / Maker
By Koerner, Ernst Karl Eugen (German, 1846-1927)
Country of Origin
Date of Manufacture
Early 20th Century
Figurative Art, Orientalist
Giltwood, Oil on Canvas
Gold, Multi-coloured


114 cm / 44.9 inches
157 cm / 61.8 inches
9 cm / 3.5 inches


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