Jerusalem and the Valley of Jehoshaphat from the Hill of Evil Counsel. Thomas Seddon. 26 1/2 x 32 3/4 (frame: 870 x 1030 x 100 mm; support: 673 x 832 mm.) Oil on canvas. Tate Gallery, London, ref. no. N00563, presented by subscribers in 1857. Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported), originally downloaded with brief comments by Jacqueline Banerjee.

This work is considered Seddon's most important piece of landscape art as well as a masterpiece of Pre-Raphaelite landscape painting in general. It was painted in 1854-55 and first exhibited in the artist's studio at No. 14 Berners Street in London from March 17 to June 3, 1855. It was later shown at the Liverpool Academy in the autumn of that same year.

Seddon had arrived in Jerusalem on his first trip to the Middle East on 3 June 1854. After exploring the city and its environs he chose to camp at Aceldema, the so-called "Field of Blood," on the Hill of Evil Counsel to the south of the city. The Hill of Evil Counsel was so named because it was believed to have been the meeting place of the council that condemned Jesus to death. This location gave him a vista that encompassed the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane, sites that were important to pious Christians like himself. Seddon and his fellow traveller William Holman Hunt were both interested in bringing "greater authenticity, spiritual and topographical, to their religious works" in order to better understand the events described in the Bible. Hamlyn felt that Seddon purposely chose this site for its religious association: "In choosing to ignore the better known and frequently described view of the actual city of Jerusalem from the north – generally regarded by travellers as the most impressive and moving site – in favour of a view which incorporated the scene of Christ's last agony, Seddon was both opting for the kind of less obviously 'composed' view which the Pre-Raphaelites favoured as well as underlying the religious impulse and didactic purpose which brought him to Jerusalem" (151). Seddon represented the site in painstaking, sun-lit detail, paralleling the art critic John Ruskin's remarks that "in following the steps of nature," artists were "tracing the finger of God." Hamlyn definitely emphasised Seddon's religious motivations over that of financial gain for painting this scene: "Whilst Seddon was undoubtedly aware of a market for views of the land of the Bible, the time he spent there was imbued far more with a sense of personal mission rather than any particular idea of pecuniary gain. Always a religious man he felt that here he was indeed treading holy ground and he was deeply moved by being amongst those places where Christ 'endured so much suffering and agony for me'" (151).

J. P. Seddon, the artist's brother, confirmed Thomas's motivation for painting this work in an article in The Athenaeum in 1879:

It was undertaken as a labour of love, in consequence of the subject, and not in accordance with his canons of art. He felt its undertaking to be a duty, but a sacrifice as well, and he spent five months in solitude in his tent outside the city in order to portray with exactness the spot which, of all spots, was in his eyes the most sacred. He wished to present to those who could not visit it themselves an accurate record, not a fancy view, of the very ground our Saviour so often trod, the walls of the Holy City as to be seen now in their desolation, with the precise trees and plants which grew now as the like grew then when Christ himself was actually upon earth. [386]

Alison Smith has written of the sacrifices this entailed during the three months Seddon laboured on it on site, working up to eleven hours a day, during which time he "endured extreme heat, dust, insects, and the possibility of attack" (110). She also pointed out that: "Seddon saw his work as corrective to what he felt were false, unchristian representations published by missionary groups such as the Christian Knowledge Society (110). Seddon recorded this in his Memoir: "I have told you when I first came how untrue all the engravings I have ever seen of Jerusalem are, but I can scarcely knew how incorrect they were until now. In the books on Syria published by the Christian Knowledge Society, very few of the places are recognizable, and many are entirely false" (111).

When the work was exhibited at the Liverpool Academy Seddon provided a detailed description of the view depicted:

The valley is closed to the North by Mount Scopus. On the right the Mount of Olives with the church of the Ascension on the top, the nearer hill is the Mount of Offence, at the foot of which stands the Village of Silwan, the Old Siloam, on the left, the Mosk of El Aksa, and the walls on the site of the Temple. The near hill is Ophel, at the foot of which, opposite the Village, is the Pool of Siloam, an intermittent stream watering the King's Gardens below. The terraces at the foot of Mount Zion shew the old Jewish mode of cultivation. At the end of the Valley is a white wall encompassing Gethsemane and below Absolom's tomb and the tombs of St. James and Zacharias. The foreground on the Hill of Evil Counsel just south of the junction of the Valley of Hinnom and the King's Garden, shows the exact state of the country around after the Spring, overgrown with thistles, on which the large tailed sheep of the country pick up the stubble of the early corn. [qtd. in Hamlyn 151]

Detail: an Arab sleeping in the shade of a tree in the left foreground.

The scene portrayed is, of course, one of great religious significance. The Mount of Olives is where Jesus went to pray after the Last Supper and which the Acts of the Apostles identifies as the site of Christ's Ascension. The Valley of Jehoshaphat is the supposed site where the Last Judgment and the Resurrection of the Dead is supposed to take place. As Tim Barringer has pointed out: "This was artistic toil as religious observance: the act of looking and recording became one of faith. The intense, arid finish reveals a fervent desire to record the scene with a cartographic level of precision, to tell the truth plain and simple"(137).

The Reverend Canon A. P. Stanley, the author of Sinai and Palestine, attested to the topographical accuracy of the scene portrayed in an article in The Athenaeum in 1857: "I have been much struck by the fidelity of this picture. Both in colour and in forms, it appears to me a most exact representation of the neighbourhood of Jerusalem" (379). A critic for The Art Journal made much the same point when the painting was exhibited at the Society of Arts in 1857:

This picture is of comparably small dimensions, and was executed entirely amidst the scenes which it represents; it is characterized by the most minute elaboration of treatment, and, without doubt, may be regarded as an exact portrait of the Valley of Jehoshaphat, with Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives precisely as those ever-memorable and most interesting localities exist at the present moment. [198]

Alison Smith has discussed Seddon's approach to painting his subject:

Adopting a plateau format and a high vantage point he delineated with dazzling clarity, the sharpness of each feature conveying a sense of seeing for the first time, and the sleeping Arab allowing the artist total possession of the view… While the lack of focus accords with the artist's purpose of scrutinising such an unstable terrain with objectivity. [110]

The dry atmosphere of the Holy Land made objects far off in the distance seem as clear and intense as those in the immediate foreground. Despite working for three months on Jerusalem and the Valley of Jehoshaphat the painting took longer to complete than Seddon had anticipated. By 3 August 1854 Seddon mentions in a letter that he has

done about half my large picture. I look with perfect dismay on what remains to be accomplished in rather less than five weeks; still I hope to finish. Should I not be able to do it, with every exertion, I fear I must stay one packet more – twenty days! which, however, will not be all the difference; for if I leave on the 8th of September, I shall have to remain a week at least in the south of France, to paint some olive-trees, which do not grow in Dinan. [106]

He eventually extended his departure twice for three weeks, three weeks being the period between boat departures from Jaffa. Holman Hunt had recommended that Seddon remain in Jerusalem for a further three weeks to try to bring his canvas to a more satisfactory state of completion. In Hunt's opinion

It was scarcely in the pictorial sense a landscape. Sitting before the spot I pointed out to him how completely the tones and tints failed in their due relations, and how essential it was that he should supply the deficiency, explaining that in conventional art the demand for variety of tones was satisfied by exaggeration and tricks, that these had increased the due expectation for effect to such an extent that when a work was done strictly from Nature, unless all the variety that Nature gave was rendered by the painter, the spectator had good cause for declaring the work crude and false; in short, that the more truth there was in one direction, the greater there must be in others [477]

Seddon finally departed for Dinan in Brittany in France on October 19, 1854 and arrived there on November 4. Jerusalem and the Valley of Jehoshaphat was therefore obviously not all painted on the spot and Seddon only completed it during the approximate two months he spent in Brittany. The work progressed aided by some sketches he had prepared in Palestine and by photographs made by James Graham, whom Seddon had met in Jerusalem where he served as Secretary for the London Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge among the Jews. Seddon finally returned to London In January 1855. Ford Madox Brown, in his diary entry for 16 January 1855, recalled their first meeting upon Seddon's return where he was unimpressed with the progress Seddon had made:

Yesterday Seddon came back after more than 20 months of absence, looking thinner & genteeler than ever & in high spirit. I went with him to Kentishtown leaving my work just begun. His pictures are cruelly P.R.B.'d. I was very sorry to see he made less than no progress. The places are not well selected nor addapted & the high finish is too obtrusive. However they present quantities of drawing & truthfulness seldom surpassed but no beauty, nothing to make the bosom tingle. Could I but have seen them in progress – I will do all I can to make him improve them yet, but it is late. Hunt, he tells me, gave him no advice at all, he has been pre-possessed against him I fear, it is a great pity. [ Surtees 117).

Seddon continued to work on this picture, possibly with the aid of Madox Brown, although Brown makes no mention of working on this picture in his dairy. In a letter of March 5, 1855 Seddon writes: "Jerusalem also is quite finished, and much improved by a rather deeper blue sky" (134).

When Seddon's Oriental Pictures were shown at the semi-public exhibition at his studio at No. 14 Berners Place in 1855, W. M. Rossetti in The Spectator pointed to this painting as being the principal work of the group:

An intense respect for truth is stamped upon the face of them, in such unmistakeable characters as cannot fail to carry conviction to the beholder, whether personally familiar with the spots depicted or not. It is this scrupulously conscientious accuracy which must confer on the works an universal value as representations of scenes whose interest is universal; but, beyond this, the artistic excellence displayed is such as will greatly enhance their attraction in the eyes of artists or intelligent amateurs. Vivid impulse in the general conception of the subjects and broad fullness of treatment are not so perceptible as the qualities upon which truth is more immediately dependent. A quick and well directed observation is seconded by precision and delicacy of handling, and by an independent determination to leave nothing undone because it is difficult or unusual. The principal work is Jerusalem from the Valley of Jehoshaphat, where the Mount of Olives occupies a conspicuous space. A goatherd lies stretched out in the foreground under the shade of a pomegranate-tree. Almost perplexing at first sight from the multiplicity of its detail, and singular in its tawny violet-shadowed tone, the picture is evidently as correct in a topographical sense as a photograph, and will similarly bear looking into with a deepening impression of its truthfulness and effect as well as in its delineation. [392]

When the work was later shown in Seddon's rooms in Conduit Street in June 1856 it was praised for its veracity of landscape depiction by a critic from The Literary Gazette:

We have lately had the pleasure of inspecting some landscapes, painted in oils, in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem, by Mr. Seddon, and certain it is, if he be right – and we have every reason to suppose he is – much of what has been represented by the glowing pencil of David Roberts, and the elegant burin of the late Mr. Bartlett [William Henry Bartlett], is very far from the truth. We have little doubt that the ideas of all persons who have not witnessed the natural scenery at the Valley of Jehoshaphat and the Mount of Olives, would undergo an almost entire change after studying Mr. Seddon's pictures. A view of the valley which separates the City (partially seen on the left) from the Mount of Olives (on the right), a well in the foreground, a village further on, with distant hills – studied with the upmost care, but with unwearied animation in every touch – is a most impressive work. It must be confessed, that if this be true, the scenery of this part of the East has never been truly painted before. The sides of the hills, broken into the terraces, which have to be artificially banked up against the effect of rains, remind the spectator, in form, of the "land-shoots" of Dorsetshire, or the vineyards of the Rhine, or the slopes of the olive grounds on the Sardinian coast; but the golden blinding colour of the scenery, being the effect of powerful sunlight reflected from the bare, unclothed soil, is the feature which over-rides the rest, and has never yet been so amply and strongly insisted upon. The first effect is a sense of aridity… In short, the conditions of fertility in a country, where the sun is scarcely ever absent, are totally distinct from those of our moister climate; besides which, the peculiar appearance of a soil that has no colour of its own, but derives it all from a brilliant sky, is as different as can be conceived from that of an English landscape, where the verdure of the country is permanent, and the sun, often clouded, qualifies it less. In the landscape to which we refer, Mr. Seddon has devoted minute care to the description of the peculiar thistles and wild plants in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem; and a young pomegranate tree, and olive foliage blown back by the wind, testify to his powers of accurate observation. The picture abounds with peculiarities, which are of the greatest value as records of facts: though the dry and hard effect of the painting, in accordance with the Preraffaellite modes of rendering, asserts itself, perhaps painfully at first. [476]

The most detailed description and analysis of this painting has been given by Allen Staley:

Jerusalem and the Valley of Jehoshaphat is a plateau landscape, showing a foreground hillside with a sleeping shepherd and a flock of sheep and goats, a valley over which the eye must jump, and a panoramic landscape beyond. It is comparable in composition to Léhon, from Mont Parnasse, but the view is less intimate. Most of the landscape is seen at a considerable distance, and, therefore, the scale is small. The hills are bare, rather than covered with trees, so that geological detail is a prime importance, and, because of the nature of the terrain, the effect is rather arid. The painting does reveal a concern with reflected light and colour corresponding to that Brown and Hunt. The shadows of the trees on the hill to the right are bright blue, and throughout the picture shadows are seen in terms of colour. However, there is relatively little shadow in the picture, most of which shows bare earth under burning sunlight, and the contrasts between light and shadow are harsh and unsubtle. We do not feel that Seddon saw in terms of light and colour, as did Brown. The painting seems more like a drawing to which colour has been added; indeed, the carefully drawn patterns of terraces and erosion on the distant hills take on rhythms of their own, giving to the picture a remarkable quality of calligraphic fantasy. Jerusalem and the Valley of Jehoshaphat is probably the supreme example of Pre-Raphaelite attention to physical fact, exclusive of all other interests, but this stemmed from the artist's limitations, or inexperience, and, as we have seen, the artist and his closest associates agreed that the result was not entirely satisfactory. [Pre-Raphaelite Landscape,101-02]

Despite the obvious merits of the painting it remained unsold for a number of years. Following Seddon's death in 1856 a group of friends met at John Ruskin's house at Denmark Hill on March 2, 1857 to arrange for a posthumous exhibition of Seddon's work and to raise the necessary funds by subscription to buy Jerusalem and the Valley of Jehoshaphat in order to donate it to the National Gallery. Ruskin acted as Treasurer and W. M. Rossetti as Secretary. Other prominent members of the committee included Madox Brown, Holman Hunt, Alfred Tennyson, Thomas Carlyle, and the Rev. F. D. Maurice. The appeal proved successful and the painting was bought for 400 guineas. Seddon's picture thus became the first Pre-Raphaelite painting to enter a public collection.

View of Jerusalem and the Valley of Jehoshaphat. Watercolour and gouache over a photograph. 7 x 8 ¾ inches (17.9 x 22.1 cm). Collection of Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, accession no. WA1944.29. By kind permission.

A small reduced copy of this picture was one of two works by Seddon exhibited at the First Pre-Raphaelite Group Exhibition held at 4 Russell Place, Fitzroy Square, in London that opened in late May 1857. This is likely the watercolour replica, now in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, that was painted over a photograph of the original picture. The watercolour copy is not quite as colourful as the primary version. The oil painting had been photographed prior to it being framed, probably when Seddon was staying in Brittany.


Barringer, Tim. In Tim Barringer, Jason Rosenfeld, and Alison Smith, eds. Pre-Rapahelites Victorian Avant-Garde. London: Tate Publishing, 2012, cat. 100. 137.

"Fine Art Gossip." The Athenaeum No. 1534 (March 21, 1857): 379.

"Fine Arts." The Literary Gazette Issue 2060 (July 12, 1856): 476.

Hamlyn, Robin. The Pre-Raphaelites. London: Tate Gallery Publications, 1984, cat. 83. 151-53.

Hunt, William Holman. Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. London: MacMillan & Co. Ltd., Vol. I, 1905.

Landow, George P. Thomas Seddon's "Moriah" (a poem intended to accompany the painting). Text.

Payne, Christiana. Pre-Raphaelites: Drawings and Watercolours. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2021, cat. 89. 212-13.

Rossetti, William Michael. "Fine Arts. Oriental Pictures by Mr. Seddon." The Spectator XXVIII (14 April 1855): 392.

Rossetti, William Michael. Some Reminiscences of William Michael Rossetti. Vol. I. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906. 142-43.

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Seddon, John Pollard, "Fine Art Gossip." The Athenaeum No. 2682 (22 March 1879): 386.

Smith, Alison. In Allen Staley and Christopher Newall Eds. Pre-Raphaelite Vision Truth to Nature. London: Tate Publishing, 2004, cat. 60, 110-11.

Staley, Allen. The Pre-Raphaelite Landscape. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973, 100-03.

Surtees, Virginia Ed. The Diary of Ford Madox Brown. New Haven and London: Yale University press, 1981.

"The Society of Arts." The Art Journal, New Series III (1 June 1857): 198.

Tromans, Nicholas. "The Holy City." The Lure of the East. British Orientalist Paintings. London: Tate Publishing, 2008. 166-67.

Created 9 June 2007

Last modified (commentary added) 27 March 2024