Friday, June 26, 2009

200 years of the Description de l'Egypte

Al Ahram Weekly (David Tresilian)

THE MAGNIFICENT setting of the église du D¤me at Les Invalides in Paris is the backdrop for a small exhibition, running until September 2009, designed to celebrate the bicentenary of the publication of the first volumes of the Description de l'Egypte, the famous account of Egypt drawn up by French scientists during the military campaign mounted by Napoleon Bonaparte in the country from 1798 to 1801.

Occupying a space to the left of the main entrance to the church, which was built by Jules Hardouin-Mansart in the late 17th century to glorify the rule of Louis XIV, the exhibition has been placed only a few metres from Napoleon's tomb. The latter, a five- metre high structure in red quartzite, has occupied the open crypt beneath the dome since the French emperor's remains were installed in the church in 1840, and it is surrounded by the names of some of his more outstanding victories, among them at the battles of Marengo, Austerlitz and Wagram, as well as, in 1798, over the Egyptian mamlukes at the Battle of the Pyramids.

As the notes to the exhibition point out, there is something fitting about the location chosen, if only because of Napoleon's personal involvement in the production and publication of the Description de l'Egypte. Originally commissioned in 1802 by Napoleon himself, who saw the work as a fitting memorial to his military expedition in Egypt and wanted it to appear in 1809 to mark the tenth anniversary of his rule, the complete work did not appear until 20 years later when a second edition was completed in 1829, though the first volumes did appear on time and bear the date 1809.

A vast work of description and illustration undertaken by some 160 scholars taken to Egypt by Napoleon in 1798 together with his military forces, the Description consists of nine folio volumes of text, together with a large-format introductory volume. The text volumes contain some 7,000 pages of material by 43 authors on every aspect of Egypt, ancient and modern. Added to this are a further dozen volumes of illustrations, which contain some 836 sheets of engraved illustrations, 60 or so in colour, and required the work of 200 engravers and 62 illustrators, 46 of whom made drawings in Egypt as part of the original military expedition.

See the above page for the full story.

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