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DESCRIPTION DE L'EGYPTE. Thèbes. Hypogées. Momies et détails de crocodile, de serpent et de chien, tirées de la collection de Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. (ANTIQUITES, volume II, planche 55)
Imprimerie Impériale, Paris 1809-1829, 71x53,5cm, une feuille.
Produced between February 1802 and 1830 on the orders of Naopleon Bonaparte and published between 1809 and 1828, 1,000 copies were printed and distributed to institutions, on vergé paper with an 'Égypte ancienne et moderne' watermark, visible when held up to the light.
Light marginal spotting not touching image, otherwise in very fresh, fine condition.
An engraving from the Description de l’Egypte, one of the masterpieces of French printing and the birth of a new field: Egyptology. A gigantic survey of Egypt at the time of Bonaparte’s conquests in 1798 and 1799, the work is divided into 13 volumes of engravings making up 892 plates, of which 72 colored, as well as presenting the splendors of the Egypt of the Pharaohs in 9 volumes. The other volumes discuss natural history and present a fascinating portrait of Coptic and Islamic Egypt as it was seen by Bonaparte’s Eastern Armies.
The ‘Egyptian campaign’, militarily a disaster, demonstrates, through the engravings of the Description d’Egypte, the scientific success it nonetheless became thanks to the 167 expert members of the Commission of the Sciences and Arts of the Institut d’Egypte [Egyptian Institute] who followed Napoleon’s army. The Institut gathered together in Egypt the mathematician Monge, the chemist Berthollet, the naturalist Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire as well as numerous artists, engineers, architects and doctors. They were tasked with re-discovering modern and ancient Egypt and displaying its natural treasures as well as the know-how of its inhabitants.
This edition, the so-called “Imperial” edition of the plates for the Description de l’Egypte was printed in four large formats, two of which were specially created for it and christened “Moyen-Egypte” and “Grand-Egypte”. A special press was built to print it, the process extending over 20 years, from 1809 to 1829. The “Imperial” edition proved so popular that a second edition, this time in black and white and without the “Egypte ancienne et moderne” watermark – known as the “Royal Edition” – was published during the Restoration by the printing house of C.-L.-F. Panckoucke (Paris).
The engravings of the Description d’Egypte owe a great deal to Baron Dominique-Vivant Denon, illustrator, diplomat, collector and later Director of the Musée Napoléon (the Louvre). His exploration of the South of Egypt gave Bonaparte the idea of sending the experts of the Institut there, thus creating a faithful and complete portrait of the area. This was the research gathered together from 1802 in the mammoth Description de L’Egypte.
Denon embarked on this story of archeological exploration at the age of 51, reaching first Alexandria and then Cairo before exploring Upper Egypt. Along with the members of the Institut d’Egypte, the Natural History Museum’s painter H.J. Redouté (brother of Pierre-Joseph Redouté, author of Roses), the mineralogist Dolomiue, and the draughtsman Joly, Denon then explored the Nile Delta and Lower Egypt. When, however, he joined the 21st Light Infantry Regiment as it marched across Upper Egypt in pursuit of the retreating Mameluks in November 1798, he found himself the only civilian. In the very midst of the battle itself, he reeled off sketches of the works of art that peppered his path right up to the threshold of the Sudan. He said that he had crossed “a country that is, apart from its name, entirely unknown to Europeans, and therefore everything was worth describing” (Voyages dans la Basse et la Haute Egypte pendant les campagnes de Bonaparte en 1798 et 1799, 1817).
On his return to Cairo, the great general, spellbound by Denon’s accounts and drawings ordered two commissions to be set up, led by the engineers Fourier and Costaz. They were tasked with the scientific study of the ancient remains in Upper Egypt; research that proved a significant contribution to the monumental Description d’Egypte, from which this plate is taken.
These engravings therefore represent a unique body of material that contributed to Jean-François Champollion’s deciphering of hieroglyphics, and which mark the beginning of the line of Mariette, Maspero and Carter, who would reshape the face of Ancient Egypt. They also started a craze that gave birth to the phenomenon of Egyptomania and the Orientalism of Delacroix, Fromentin, Marilhat, Decamps and Théophile Gautier. Financiers, politicians, merchants and all kinds of treasure-hunters made their way to the banks of the Nile in search of riches, following this rediscovery of Egypt. The originators of Egyptology, these plates were to have a hugely influential afterlife.
These engravings show the scientific genius of the French experts then working on the ground in Egypt, laying the foundations for its becoming a French colony. This colonizing project, which had been mooted since the reign of Louis XIV, was now accompanied – with Bonaparte’s arrival – by an in-depth study of the country’s fauna and flora thanks to the work of the most eminent naturalists, mineralogists, and entomologists of the day. The Description de l’Egypte shows all of this immense scientific undertaking through its engravings, which were done after drawings by members of the Academy of Science, including Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hillaire, Alire Raffenau-Delile and Henri-Joseph Redouté. In the words of Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, “We have gathered the material for the greatest work that a nation could hope to undertake. In mourning the fate of so many brave soldiers who – after so many glorious exploits – fell in Egypt, we shall be able to console ourselves that such precious works came into being.”
The genius of the experts of the Institut d’Egypte is revealed in the plates of the section known as “Modern Egypte”. Architecture, industry, social organization, conditions of health, irrigation, music, and crafts, are all presented with exceptional precision and powers of description. The spirit of Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie runs through the work of the draughtsmen of the Description de L’Egypte, who accompanied the text volumes with numerous detailed plates, undertaking to produce a portrait of the local population that was imbued with both beauty and respect. Wealthy Pashas and simple artisan potters are sensitively represented here, going about their business in beautifully composed images that nonetheless do not fall into the traps of idealism or caricature.
ISLAMIC ARCHITECTURE (the “Cairo” plates)
The set of engravings to which this plate belongs constitutes one of the first complete studies of the monuments of Islamic Egypt in Cairo, bringing together maps, sections and elevations of mosques, mausoleums and fortifications, from the Tulunid era in the 9th century up to the Mameluk constructions contemporaneous with the arrival of the Bonapartist troops. At the same time, the architects and engineers of the Institut d’Egypte also made a big series of plates dedicated to civilian housing and edifices in Cairo, including both grander and more modest constructions, providing a precious picture of life in Cairo at the end of the 19th century.
BAB AL FOUTOUH
Bab el-Foutouh, " The Conquest Gate” marks the northern limit of Fatimid old Cairo. Rebuilt in 1087, it is highly defensive in nature owing to the turbulent climate in 11th Century Cairo, which saw a number of popular uprisings. An imposing gate, it has two semicircular towers with low-slung arches made of heavy blocks of stone anchored within the ramparts. The sizeable passage through the gate (4.85m wide by 6.79m high) has a shallow dome.
BAB EL NASR
Bab el-Nasr, “The Victory Gate” is on the northern wall of the Fatimid fortress in Cairo. Its two enormous rectangular towers were rebuilt in 1087 after a long period of popular uprisings. On this highly attractive frontal image signed Protain, one can admire the sculpted shields in the corners of the gate and on the towers, symbolizing victory and protection against invaders. After taking Cairo, Napoleon named all the towers along the wall of the fortress after the officers assigned to guard them. Their names are still engraved on the upper parts of the walls of the gate.
SULTAN HASSAN MOSQUE
The massive architectural complex constructed by Sultan Hassan at the foot of the citadel in Cairo was built in the ostentatious style so characteristic of Mameluk architecture. Completed in 1356, the Sultan Hassan Mosque has a monumental gate and a 57m high minaret. This group of buildings, comprising a mausoleum that was never put to use, was strategically built on the site of a square that saw the start of a number of popular uprisings. The mosque was heavily inspired by Iranian models.
This plate is taken from a set of engravings dedicated to the Temple of Isis on the island of Philae. The final bastion of the worship of the ancient Egyptian gods, the temple of Isis was the last pagan temple to be in use before it was closed in the 6th century A.D. under Justinian. Construction on the temple began under the Ptolemies, a period of growth for the Isis cult. Isis was the sister and wife of Osiris and mother to Horus.
Kom Ombo (Ombos)
The Kom Ombo site, 40 kilometers from Aswan, is home to one of the best preserved ancient Egyptian temples, dedicated to Sobek, a crocodile god and Haroeris, a form of Horus. Built in the Ptolemaic era, it was actually founded during the XVIIIth Dynasty. Its massive Composite capitals and highly accomplished reliefs are captured accurately by the draughtsmen of the Institut d’Egypte, Jollois, Balzac and Cécile. The dual aspect of its design, intended for worship of two different divine triads – those of Sobek and Haroeris – is reproduced in great detail by the architects and engineers of the Egyptian campaign through this set of prints, which preceded the first archeological digs in the building by Auguste Mariette in 1828.
This plate is taken from a series of views of the great temple at Edfu and the various buildings in its cultic complex. The temple of Horus, a jewel of Ptolemaic architecture and exceptionally well-preserved, is made up of a majestic entry gate and a hypostyle chamber, which are both extensively documented thanks to the engravings by the experts of the Institut d’Egypte. Begun in 237 BC by Ptolemy III and completed 180 years later under Tiberius, it proved an extraordinary sight for the draughtsmen come to explore the left bank of the Nile.
Esna and its environs
The town of Esna (Esneh or Latopolis in Bonaparte’s time), lies fifty kilometers to the south of Luxor. The experts from the Institut de l’Egypte documented their discovery of its temple, dedicated to Khnum, one of the gods of creation who worked with clay and had the head of a ram; he controlled the life-giving flooding of the Nile, the source of fertility. He was associated with Nebt-uu, the mistress of the countryside and Menhyt, a goddess with the head of a lion. This temple, partially rebuilt during the Ptolemaic era, was added to right up to the reign of Tiberius. The draughtsmen also produced a number of views of the neighboring temples, most notably the less well-preserved temple of Contra-Latopolis to the north of Esna.
Close to Thebes and Luxor on the left bank of the Nile, the city of Medinet-Habu is home to one of the most attractive temples of New Kingdom period Egypt, the mortuary temple of Ramses III. This dates from the middle of the 12th century BC, and is based on the famous Ramesseum of his predecessor, which it surpasses in size. A funerary temple celebrating the Pharaoh, the experts of the Institut d’Egypte set about creating cross-sections, plans and elevations, and most especially capturing its numerous bas-reliefs. The architects and draughtsmen also focused on the Royal Palace and its internal peristyle within the 12-metre fortress that encircles the religious complex, including the Temple of Amon, located at the south-east of the site and begun in the reign of Hatshepsut at the end of the 15th Century BC.
The Memnonium, a name used by visitors to the Valley of the Kings from 1750 to 1850, refers to a set of three royal buildings constructed during the New Kingdom: the Ramesseum, the Temple of Amenhotep III and the Temple of Sethi I. The draughtsmen and architects of Bonaparte’s Institut, sent out on expedition across Upper Egypt from 1799 documented Thebes and the Valley of the Kings, even attempting to reconstruct some of the buildings on the basis of descriptions by Classical authors. The tomb of Ozymandias (one of the numerous names of Ramses II), in a very poor state, thus became the subject of very thorough study and an attempt to fill in its missing bits on the basis of the writings of Diodurus Siculus. This Greek historian of the Augustine period stayed in the valley of the Nile from 60-57 BC and his visit to the tomb of Ramses II is recounted in his monumental Bibliotheca Historica (Book I, XLVII-XLIX).
At the same time, the experts also made extremely detailed studies and views of the Colossi of Memnon, all that remains of a huge memorial temple to Amenhotep III built on the road to the necropolis in the Valley of the Kings. These colossi were located at the entrance to the temple in front of a preliminary pylon made of brick. These two statues represent King Amenhotep III framed to the right by the great Royal Consort Tiy and to the left by the Queen Mother Mutemwiya.
Hypogea and Biban el Moluk
This plate is taken from a series of engravings of the hypogea in the Valley of the Kings (Biban el Moluk) in Thebes. Some are in color to show the vivid hues of the sarcophaguses and mysterious murals whose secret had yet to be broken by Jean-François Champollion. The draughtsmen of the Institut, including the famous Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, sent by Napoleon to cover Upper Egypt in 1799, capture with élan the royal mummies and the artifacts that accompanied the dead in their journey to the netherworld: urns, furniture, weapons, idols and the mummies of numerous mammals and birds.
This plate is from a set on the Great Temple at Karnak, built during the New Kingdom at the time of Ramses III. This enormous complex is divided into three parts and is dedicated to the Theban Triad of gods, Amun, Mut and Khonsu. Its sculptures, internal bas-reliefs and sunken reliefs on the external facades are intricately captured by the engineers of the Institut, while the architects worked out the complex groundplan of this edifice, which was divided into facades, colonnaded halls and sacral spaces reserved for the temple priests. The alley of the monumental sphinx which links the site to the Luxor site was also the subject of a plate by Lepère, an architect from the Institut who took part in the expedition across Upper Egypt.
The experts executed views and drawings of the temples of Dendera (or Tentyra), a city in Upper Egypt 60km to the north of Luxor. They have captured, with an exceptional degree of graphic artistry, the thick, round nature of the sculpted reliefs of the great Temple of Hathor, built under the Ptolemies in the first half of the 1st century BC. They also produced interesting views of the neighboring temples as well as a selection of reliefs of the “Dendera Zodiac”, a chapel dedicated to Osiris and located beneath the temple of Hathor. Its famous astronomical relief was discovered by the French General Desaix – stationed in Upper Egypt by Bonaparte from 1798 – and taken back to France in 1821 by Claude Lelorrain; it is now on display in the Louvre. Another astronomical and cosmological relief on the ceiling of the hypostyle hall of the Temple of Hathor is the subject of a magnificent plate by Jollois and Devilliers. This covers seven soffit coffers of the ceiling and is an immense allegorical image showing several levels of consciousness: that of cosmogony, the constellations and their effect on the Earth, the creation of Man, and the Nomes of Egypt, symbolized by 21 pairs of wings topped with the red crown of Lower Egypt and the white tiara of Upper Egypt.
The Pyramids at Memphis
The Giza Plateau, near Memphis, is home to three of the most famous Ancient Egyptian Pyramids, the tombs of Cheops, Khafre and Menkaure, Pharaohs of the 4th Dynasty (2620-2500 BC). The experts of the Institut, hurrying to Memphis, explored the plateau and made numerous views of these majestic pyramids, towering over inhabitants and mounted figures. They also made minutely detailed views of the epigraphs on the tombs adjacent to the pyramids, as well as views of the Sphinx of Gaza near the Pyramid of Khafre.
Views of Alexandria
A plate taken from a set of view of Alexandria as it was found by Napoleon’s army in June 1798. Embarking in Toulon on the 14th May, his troops disembarked at Alexandria a month later and explored this port city before heading towards Cairo to take the capital.
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