The Destruction of Palmyra (2017) was loaned to the ICS earlier this year by the Warburg Institute.

Deanna Petherbridge Drawing detail
A detail from The Destruction of Palmyra (2017) © Deanna Petherbridge

The drawing - a wall-sized triptych which hangs in the Archaeology Reading Room of the Combined Classics Library - is a powerful visual response to the richness of Syria’s cultural heritage and the destruction wrought upon it, and the Syrian people, in recent times. Its counterpart, The Destruction of the City of Homs (2016), is in the Tate Collection.

The Warburg Institute was given the drawing by an anonymous donor in January. It has been loaned to the ICS for two years - partly due to of the commencement of the Warburg Renaissance renovation project, extensive building work which means that it is unable to hang the piece at the present time - but also because of the ICS’s highly relevant research focus and materials. The ICS has much material pertinent to Syria and its heritage, including the manuscripts of Robert Wood, the eighteenth-century traveller, whose book, The Ruins of Palmyra (1753) made the site known in western Europe; plus sketchbooks by the draughtsman Giovanni Battista Borra, who accompanied Wood on his travels. Additionally, Deanna Petherbridge herself cites a recent themed issue of Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies (Remembering Roman Syria: Valuing Tadmor-Palmyra from ‘Discovery’ to Destruction, edited by Professor Jen Baird and Dr Zena Kamash) as informing her understanding of the site’s history.

Two events about Syria will feature in the ICS’s programme this term.

On 28 October, Dr Annie Webster will host an online seminar to showcase the work of Syrian refugee academics who have participated in Cara’s mentoring scheme. Dr. Webster - an Inclusion, Participation and Engagement Fellow at the School of Advanced Study - is collaborating with Cara (the Council for At-Risk Academics) to organise the event.

Then, just a few weeks later (date TBC), the Combined Library will host our event to both celebrate the donation of the work to the Warburg and its temporary residence at the ICS, and honour Syria and its people. A panel of distinguished speakers will attend, including Syrian architect and critic Dr. Ammar Azzouz, and Frances Carey, former curator of prints and drawings at the British Museum and an expert on Deanna Petherbridge’s work. They will discuss the heritage and culture of Tadmor-Palmyra and its inhabitants, past and present, the impact of the destruction of home and heritage in conflict, and what might constitute restorative architectural and archaeological reconstruction.  Guests invited to the event will include contributors to the fields of arts, architecture and media, as well as academics and students.

In collaboration with Senate House Library and Professor Jen Baird, the ICS has also mounted a display, Approaching Tadmor-Palmyra, in the Institute foyer. This combines material from the ICS and SHL special collections, with objects crafted by The Palmyrene Voices Initiative, a civil society initiative which aims to provide a platform for the voices of the Palmyrene people to reach the international community; to support all Palmyrene people in the diaspora in their efforts to come back to Palmyra; and to help them to rebuild their city in a way that guarantees their dignity and preserves their identity. The display will run until the end of 2022.

About the drawing

The city of Tadmor-Palmyra is located in central Syria and is mentioned in records as early as the second millennium BC. A busy modern town, it was renowned for its Roman-era ruins, which preserved evidence of an ancient Middle Eastern caravan city with an important place in long-distance trade.

The Destruction of Palmyra follows The Destruction of the City of Homs (2016), which is in the Tate Collection. They comment on two periods of devastation between May 2015 and March 2017, when Da’esh attacked and occupied the modern city and the ancient heritage site, as well as the people living there. The city, site and inhabitants were damaged further during its recapture by Syrian government forces, supported by Russian military airstrikes.  

Both works were exhibited in London in September-October 2017 at the Art Space Gallery in London, with a catalogue commentary by the artist, entitled Destruction and Graphic Strategies of Excess

The artist

Deanna Petherbridge CBE has been drawing scenes relating to war and destruction since the 1970s and has exhibited her work internationally.  

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