Prints from these two large folio publications have fired the world’s imagination about Egypt for the last two hundred years, leading to gentlemen archaeologists and treasure hunters digging throughout Egypt, and not only initiating a whole design movement, but the science of archaeology and of course many horror movies involving mummies.
In reality the publications, because they are not mere books, are the chalk and cheese of the depiction of Egypt, one scientific and methodical whereas the other came from pure artistic sensibilities and a touch of romance.
All these original prints and more are available through my site at..http://www.maphouse.co.uk/antique-prints/egypt-and-middle-east/napoleons-expedition/
Although there were a few publications before Napoleon’s expedition, the ‘Description De L’Egypte’ a massive opus, eclipsed virtually everything from before and nothing came close to the accuracy and quality of engravings. It also pushed the limits of size with some plates that could be produced at the beginning of the nineteenth century with some plates up to 100*70cms.
About 160 civilian scholars and scientists, known popularly as the savants, accompanied Napoleon‘s expedition to Egypt in 1798 to 1801 as part of the French Revolutionary Wars with the General planning to make Egypt part of the new Republic.
Along with 2,000 surveyors, draughtsmen and artists every building and artifact was measured and recorded in absolute detail. Later 400 engravers would complete this work back in Paris.
The intellectual rigour of the Description was a direct follow on from Diderot’s Encyclopédie, famous for representing the thought of the Enlightenment. According to Denis Diderot in the article “Encyclopédie”, the Encyclopédie’s aim was “to change the way people think”…Diderots work included numerous plates explaining all forms of science and manufacturing from opthalmics to bridge building.
After the destruction of Napoleon’s fleet by the British and the overland return of Napoleon and the army through the Levant, the scientists, savants and artists managed to take with them the huge collection of notes,drawings and artefacts that later, back in Paris, took over 20 years to turn into the 30 volumes and approximately 850 plates of the Description as it finally became.
So accurate were the plates that in the 1980’s I visited an important medieval merchants palace/ house in Cairo that was being rebuilt by french architects with the plates from the Cairo section. I was told it could only be done due to the precision of the drawings.
Jules-Cesar Savigny was responsible, along with Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, for the Natural History sections of the Description de l’Égypte. This was an enormous undertaking in it’s own right with up to 5 volumes of plates of Birds, mammals, coral, fish etc. These are some of the largest original Natural History prints available.
One of the most interesting things is that some of the plates contain such purity of lines and subject that today the large prints from Description sit equally as well in a modern house as an old one.
I have had an affection for Egypt since 1980 and 1981 when I spent a few months travelling from Alexandria to Aswan (and beyond into the Sudan) including the the western Oases of Daklah and Kargah.
The people were wonderful and nothing was too much trouble..we were hardly ever hassled for baksheesh …people wanted to talk , practise their english and tell us of their woes of not being able to marry without money to buy the bedroom furniture..
One could walk safely anywhere.. Cairo slums or middle class suburbs. I have wanted to return recently and regularly ask my friend, a coptic bookdealer, is it OK this year and it is always the same reply.. not now Michael, Wait..Will it ever be OK to travel with my camera around Egypt.
It is so sad that religion and the army have destroyed a beautiful and friendly country that has so much to see.
David Roberts started as a circus scenery painter in his native Scotland, then a renowned theatre scenery painter in London.
It was Turner who persauded him to be a full time painter and soon after he spent the best part of two years sketching and painting water colours in Egypt and the Holy Land. Whereas the Napoleonic expedition numbered thousands David Roberts travelled up and down the Nilme with a retinue of between six and eight.
The story goes that he produced two monumental oil paintings of Egypt and they were put on display at the Tate, inviting the rich of london to subscribe to the planned work of fine lithographs to be produced by Louis Haghe. Sketches in the Holy Land & Syria and Egypt and Nubia. I only stock the Egypt & Nubia plates. It was one of the most successful artistic ventures of the nineteenth century with over 400 subscribers, Queen Victoria being number 1. The publication was issued part by part from 1842 to 1849. About 1,600 of the standard edition were published at the same time. In all not more than a couple of thousand were ever produced.
David Roberts was from the beginning a theatre scenery painter , involving the romance and story telling of the imagination. Unlike the Description which was accurate to the centimetre Roberts works sometimes moved Statues of columns for dramatic effect. And Dramatic they are.
David Robert’s lithographs of Egypt and the Holy Land are some of the best prints of the Victorian era.
These and more at http://www.maphouse.co.uk/antique-prints/egypt-and-middle-east/
Or email me for others at firstname.lastname@example.org