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The Twilight of Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign (1798-1801): Scenes from the Description de l’Égypte

A STUDENT-CURATED EXHIBITION researched and prepared by the participants of Professor Darius Spieth’s Spring 2004 art history seminar on Colonialism, taught in LSU’s School of Art.

The exhibition was mounted in Hill Memorial Library, which houses the Special Collections division of the LSU Libraries. The exhibition paralleled a show of contemporary post-colonial art entitled “Beyond East and West” on view at the LSU Museum of Art in the LSU Memorial Tower. Visitors were encouraged to attend both shows in order to engage in the critical dialogue between Colonialism and Post-Colonialism suggested by the exhibitions. The “Twillight” exhibition opened April 16 and ran through August 10, 2004.


THE FRENCH OCCUPATION of Egypt between 1798-1801 was the first colonial conquest which endeavored to bring the Enlightenment to the Orient. The invasion was justified exclusively by the assumed superiority of the Western value system, “liberating” the Orient from the yoke of Barbaric despots. Before this expedition, colonization was rationalized with religious arguments; now reason, rationality, and scientific thought justified the conquest of an extra-European country. The French expedition to Egypt therefore defined colonialism and provided the blueprint of all succeeding colonial undertakings in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Theories about how an allegedly “inferior” society, dominated and abused by “despotic” tyrants, could be improved by bringing it up to Western standards of civilization and industry were used to prop the invasion plans ideologically. When the French occupiers set out to colonize Egypt, they considered themselves both liberators and saviors of the native Egyptians.

After a successful campaign in Italy at the end of the eighteenth century, France’s military focus was turned toward a more powerful enemy, England. The Directory government of post-revolutionary France was completely surrounded by anti-republican monarchies, which did not want revolutionary ideas to spread to their own territory. The campaign to Egypt was supported by Napoleon Bonaparte, who, inspired by theories of the writer and philosopher Volney, was enamored of the idea of conquering Egypt. Western stereotypes of the eighteenth century portrayed Orientals as idle and unproductive. In Western eyes, the Orient had fallen into a dark age, in which men and women literally resided in the crumbling ruins of past empires, deprived of ambitions and visions for their nation. Beneath this pretext of good intentions, the Directory pursued the objective of crippling England by cutting her off from her profitable colonies in India.

For the first time in military history, an army set forth with martial as well as academic intentions. For this purpose, more than 160 scholars were selected to accompany the army to Egypt; they would later form the Institut d‘Égypte in Cairo. Printing presses and type for Western and Oriental languages were obtained from the Vatican store rooms. A library of 215,000 books was carefully chosen from the Vatican Library. For the scientists, every instrument they could possibly need was acquired and shipped, including entire labs of various types. The idea of conquering and retaining power through a complete knowledge and understanding of the country and its population had never before been pursued to this depth. This context made the campaign unique, because never before had an invading country shown such meticulous interest in the object of its conquest. The Description de l’Égypte a huge multi-volume collection compiled by the scholars of the Institut d’Égypte upon order by Napoleon Bonaparte, later became the principal resource for documenting and commemorating the French expedition to the Near East.

On the May 10, 1798, Napoleon’s army of more than 30,000 men and women set sail from Toulon, France. On the way to Egypt, Napoleon conquered the island of Malta, to be used as a strategic base between Egypt and France. (Map 1)

On June 1, 1798 the French army landed in Egypt near Alexandria at the mouth of the Nile. Although the city was fortified, it quickly fell to the French. From Alexandria, Napoleon’s troops marched on to conquer the whole of Upper Egypt. The country, although formally part of the Ottoman Empire, was primarily under the control of the Mamelukes, an eclectic group of marauding slave warriors, who fiercely resisted the French occupiers. The French considered them to be violent despots who suppressed women and indulged habitually in crimes such as murder, kidnaping, and sodomy.

At the pyramids, a short distance from Cairo, the French found an army of 50,000 warriors laying in wait for them. This army was made up of Mamelukes, Arabs, Bedouins, and Egyptians. The battle was easily won by the French, due to their technologically superior weaponry. Yet, the French soldiers admired the bravery and ferocity of their Oriental enemies. After his defeat, the Mameluke leader Mourad-bey and his remaining army fled into the desert, pursued by the French troops. (Map 2)

Just after Napoleon entered Cairo on July 24, 1798, the English were spotted on the horizon at Aboukir. General Nelson ordered the British fleet to surround the French ships, which were not near enough to the land fortifications to be protected by the battery. This way the British were able to destroy the French ships one by one. The destruction of the French fleet was a military disaster that sealed the fate of the French expedition to Egypt. The European occupiers could no longer communicate with, or receive supplies from France. The English took advantage of this situation and sent exaggerated propaganda reports about the impending French defeat to Europe.

When news of the Battle at Aboukir reached Cairo, Napoleon Bonaparte decided to extend his conquests into Syria, hoping to destroy the Ottoman Empire. The army was split into two parts. One contingent, lead by General Desaix, occupied Upper Egypt and pursued Mourad-bey into the desert; the other soldiers, lead by Bonaparte, embarked for the Holy Land. (Map 3)

Lacking ships, Napoleon’s army traveled from Cairo to Palestine on camels and mules. The first major battle in the Holy Land occurred near Jaffa. It was there that the French army received its most crippling blow. The Ottoman Turks joined forces with the British, while the French army was incapacitated by a deadly outbreak of the plague. (Map 4)

The remains of Napoleon’s army marched on to Acre. Here a final battle stalled the French advance. When Napoleon passed through Jaffa on his retreat, he ordered the doctors to poison his soldiers which were afflicted with the plague. According to Napoleon’s rationale, they were terminally ill and hence a burden to the army.

In August 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte and a select few of his generals departed secretly from Alexandria to return to France, where they were celebrated and shortly thereafter overthrew the Directory government. The French Expedition to Egypt ended in disaster. However, it proved to be a powerful influence upon nineteenth-century European culture. France embraced a fashion for all things Egyptian, which only deepened the Orientalist stereotypes held by the West and shifted attention away from the abandoned soldiers and the failure of the Egyptian expedition. This enthusiasm for Egyptian paraphernalia became known as “Egyptomania..”

Bonaparte realized the political potential of Egyptomania and decided to use it to recast the outcome of the expedition. He ordered a large-scale project to publish all the recorded findings of the scientists and scholars who had accompanied him to Egypt. All of these documents were collected into a huge luxury edition, which appeared between 1809 and 1822 under the title Description de l’Égypte. The Description was made up of some twenty volumes, containing mostly oversized engravings, which were explained in accompanying text volumes. Although a monument to Napoleon‘s power, the Description was completed under his successor, the Bourbon King Louis XVIII.

Only 1,000 copies of the Description were printed, and complete sets are exceedingly rare today. Louisiana State University owns all the volumes of plates, examples of which are exhibited here for the first time. The copy of the Description on display includes many hand-colored prints, which were produced for only a few discerning collectors as a special edition. The great rarity of these polychrome prints is underlined by the circumstance that not even the BibliothPque Nationale in Paris owns a copy of the hand-colored prints.



Gallery of the physical installation.

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Vue perspective intérieure coloriée, prise sous le portique du Grand Temple

[The Hypostyle of the Main Temple of Philae Perspective View]

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THIS PLATE IS ONE of the most renowned and frequently reproduced engravings of the entire Description de l’Égypte. The enchanting depiction highlights the grandeur of the temple, its magnificent colors, detailed hieroglyphics, and serene Egyptian priests. The design was made by the architect Le PPre, and his profession is reflected in his precise draftsmanship of the architecture and hieroglyphics.
The text that accompanies this plate describes how the colors were faithfully reproduced in the de luxe colored edition of the Description de l’Égypte. The engraving appears to be the apogee of the scientific nature of the expedition, both in its precise depiction and method of color engraving employed. However, we know from various sources (including the text published with the plates) that this was not the temple scene that the French encountered. The illustrator cut away columns to give the viewer a clearer perspective. Moreover, the real temple was in a far more ruinous condition, and while colors were faithfully recorded, they were only copied from fragments of debris. The addition of three Egyptian figures is purely fictional. Therefore, far from being scientific, Le PPre has taken liberties and portrayed the temple as he believed it would have looked in ancient Egypt.

Lancret’s contemporary account helps to illuminate the motives behind the will to reconstruct the ancient Egyptian past: “The Greeks and the Romans have possessed it [the Island of Philae] and the French army, conducted in Egypt by the General in chief Bonaparte has also taken possession of it.” The engraving is therefore a construct of the glorious ancient Egypt ruled by Pharaohs with which Napoleon wanted to associate himself, like the Greeks and Romans before him.




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THE PAINTINGS OF THE HARPISTS are part of an extended religious scene from the tomb of King Ramses III (c.1184-1153 B.C.), located at Thebes, in the Valley of the Kings. They were first discovered by the English archeologist John Bruce in the eighteenth century. However, the scholars who travelled with the Egyptian expedition felt it was their responsibility to study the tomb paintings again and to publish their results. They hoped to provide more accurate color engravings than the illustrations made by Bruce, and to improve upon previous studies. The scholars praised the sophistication of Egyptian music and artistic achievements, noting that the instruments were comparable to those of Europe. In their minds, the French had discovered evidence of a highly developed culture, and they drew parallels between the height of ancient civilization and the great achievements of modern France. The idea of restoring ancient Egypt’s glorious past represents one way in which the French justified plans to colonize Egypt.

Another scholar associated with the Egyptian campaign, Guillaume-André Villoteau, may have contributed to these plates because of his interest in musical instruments from cultures outside Europe. Although Napoleon requested that he sing and compose songs for the campaign, Villoteau declined, pointing out that he was invited to the campaign as a musicologist and specialist for musical instruments and not as an entertainer.




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THIS PLATE DEPICTS a romanticizing view of the remains from the triumphal arch at Antinoë (Antinoöpolis), a village founded by Emperor Hadrian on October 30, 130 A.D,. in honor of Antinus, the emperor’s favorite who saved him from drowning in the Nile. It was the best-preserved Roman monument the French expedition discovered in Egypt. The damage to the façade with its missing frontal columns was sustained when builders of the Christian churches and mosques used the arch as a quarry. Vestiges of the columns’ ruined bases suggest they were made of granite.

No other classical remains were found in Egypt that could compare to this building’s purity of lines, angles, mouldings, and archivolts. The decorations of the three arches, entablatures, columns, pilasters, and capitals were sculpted in the Corinthian and Doric orders. The monument is admirable for its elegance, simplicity, and fine proportions.

Nestled in the landscape, there is the city of Sheikh Ibada, a modern settlement built near Antinoöpolis. The illustrators’ sensitivity to depict the date palms encroaching upon the houses and surrounding the triumphal arch enhanced the picturesque appeal of the ruins of Antinoë. The expedition’s interest in the triumphal arch reinforces the cause of colonialism in Egypt. It evokes the celebration of triumphs and conquests.




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THE ILLUSTRATIONS on this plate show two ascending corridors in perspective views, which were recorded while the French scholars explored the inside of the Great Pyramid of Cheops. Local guides, who can be identified by their decorative Oriental attire, accompany the French explorers through the pyramid. In figure 1, the architect Jean-Baptiste LePPre stands by the five-stage ladder he custom-designed for the exploration. This same ladder is located in the background of figure 2. At the top of the ladder, a figure identified as M. Coutelle enters a recess that was built above the King’s Chamber to relieve weight on the room.

The pyramid had three chambers: the King’s Chamber, the Queen’s Chamber, and a lower chamber that the French never discovered. The King’s Chamber housed the sarcophagus, while the other two were never completed and are considered to be decoys for tomb robbers. In this plate, people emerge from different areas to indicate the chamber entrances. In figure 2, a man in the foreground holds a light as he emerges from the horizontal gallery that extends to the Queen’s Chamber. A figure in full military dress appears from the gallery that leads to the entrance of the pyramid, underlining that the scientific exploration of Egypt would have been impossible without the support of the French army occupying the country.




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DURING THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY Boulaq was part of Cairo, but a separate township. The port of Boulaq served Lower Egypt as a known center of commerce. Exotic merchandise such as henna, saffron, rubber, and ivory from Arabia and inner Africa were stored within Boulaq’s walled structures. Goods from Europe destined for Cairo were often received, while the wares of Upper and Lower Egypt went to Boulaq’s great okels, or markets. The boats along the shoreline in the plate display such goods as bananas, pottery, and fish. The port’s prosperity earned Boulaq the status as Egypt’s gateway to Istanbul. The Western fascination with the Orient is expressed by the figures of three French soldiers in the foreground contemplating an Egyptian sarcophagus as it is measured by a French artist-scholar.

The Grand Mosque of Sinan Pasha, Egypt’s governor, was built in 1571. The mosque consisted of a square prayer hall covered by Cairo’s largest dome, with porticoes along its sides. The buttress-supported dome and the single gallery of the towering minaret are Ottoman features. The transitional area of the dome revealed a tripartite system of squinches, characteristic of Mameluke style. This fusion of styles bespeaks Egypt’s cultural richness, an enduring faith, and a strong Eastern awareness of the past.




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THE MANY COSTUMES worn in Egypt at the time of the French occupation captivated the fantasy of the Western observers. The variety of dress and costume exemplified Egypt’s cultural richness. Garments were apparently selected for this plate based on what they revealed about the various racial types and indigenous groups.

Military costumes, such as those in figures 1, 2, 4 and 11, illustrate the distinctions across rank, title, and status among Egyptian soldiers. Another soldier is depicted in figure 3, yet this man’s dress is distinctly different from that of the previous group because he is a Janizary, or Turkish soldier. Beys, leaders of the warrior-caste that ruled in Egypt, are shown elaborately dressed with elongated swords, in figures 5 and 8. In figures 7 and 17, the slave-soldiers, or Mamelukes, wear full trousers and three-quarter-length cloaks; and in figures 12 and 15, Arab warriors dress in simpler cloaks and feature closely wrapped turbans. The properly draped and veiled female dancer in figure 13 contrasts with the exotically dressed dancer in figure 14. Women of the harem are illustrated in figures 25 and 27, adorned with elaborate garments, jewels, headdresses, and elevated shoes. Another group of women in figure 26 is shown wearing religiously prescribed protective veils and full-length robes. Costumes of the sheikhs, holy men or Arabic chiefs, are shown in figures 16, 18, 20, and 21. In figure 28, a Copt scribe, member of an ethnic group believed to have been a direct descendant of the ancient Egyptians, is portrayed as a scholar identified by his pen and inkwell. The remaining figures (6, 9, 10, 19, 22, 23, 24, 29, and 30) portray diverse costumes from various groups, adding further evidence for the variety of cultures and races in Cairo at the time of French occupation. Figures 6 and 22 are identified as Jews; 9, 29, and 30 are court officials; 23 is a Greek Orthodox priest; and 10 is a warrior on a camel.

Although the French scholars encountered a wide diversity of peoples during their exploration of Egypt, and hoped to portray each group as distinct and unique in its own ways, most of the illustrations they recorded only underscored stereotypical views of “the Oriental” by portraying each figure with cliché attributes, dress, or manner.




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THE HISTOIRE NATURELLE (Natural History) volumes examine animals, plants, and rocks that the French scholars discovered during the Egyptian campaign. Each plate illustrates how determined the scholars were to document their discoveries, and they assigned importance to every life form they encountered in the various regions of Egypt.

The first page of the Histoire Naturelle depicts three species of bats that the French probably encountered while exploring tombs, old buildings, or caverns.The first bat illustrated is [Taphozous nudiventris], also known as a naked-bellied tomb bat. The male version of this bat is often brown in color, whereas the female is grey. They also have light colored underbellies, and some species have white spots on the body. They measure about 6-10 cm., and their tails grow up to an additional 2-4 cm. in length.

The second bat illustrated is [Nycteris thebaica], known more commonly as the hollow-faced or slit-faced bat. These bats are very rare and inhabit only parts of Africa and the Middle East. They are easily recognizable by the structure of their muzzle, which has a deep central groove, and their large ears, which measure between 2-4 cm. They are commonly brown in colour, with lighter brown or greyish sides, and measure about 10 cm in length with 4-6 cm tails.

The third bat is [Vespertilio pipistrellus], of the family Vespertilonidae, members of which are the most common bats found in most parts of the world. They are grey, brown, red, or black in color and measure about 3.5-10 cm. long, with a tail between 2.5-6 cm. long. During the campaign, these bats had the reputation of being erratic fliers that appeared earlier than other bats in the evening and sometimes they were even spied flying during the day.


Related Works


L’Orient et la peinture française au XIXe siPcle d’EugPne Delacroix B Auguste Renoir [The Orient and French Painting in the Nineteenth Century from EugPne Delacroix to Auguste Renoir]. Paris: Plon, 1930. Middleton ND547.A49 1930

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AFTER THE END OF THE EGYPTIAN CAMPAIGN, the fascination of the Orient continued to appeal to many French artists, who sought to introduce a flavor of exoticism into their work. This study gives an overview of the Orientalist artists and subjects that typified French Romanticism in the nineteenth century. The Western interest in Orientalist subject matter is carefully retraced from the monumental works of Antoine-Jean Gros, to the watercolors in Delacroix’s travel sketchbooks from North Africa.



A Bibliographical Account and Collation of La Description de l’Égypte. London: Library of the London Institution, 1838. Photocopy of an original in the Library of Congress. Rare Z3656 L75 1838a

A BIBLIOGRAPHICAL ACCOUNT and Collation of La Description de l’Égypte is an indispensable source for studying the genesis of the Egyptian expedition and the official publication of its scientific findings. It is a historical memoir based on the collections of the French scholars who participated in the Egyptian expedition, presented for the first time to the English reader. Baring’s account is significant due to the political differences between France and England, and the fact that his account chronicles a French expedition from the view of the British.



Voyageurs et écrivains français en Égypte de la fin de la domination turque B l’inauguration du canal de Suez [Travelers and French Writers in Egypt from the End of the Turkish Domination to the Inauguration of the Suez Canal], vol. II.

Cairo: The French Institute of Oriental Archeology, 1956. Anonymous loan THIS STUDY IS ONE of two volumes of literary history analyzing French travel descriptions from the Middle Ages to the early nineteenth century dealing with Egypt. Works in this volume range from Gérard de Nerval’s Voyage en Orient to the writings of Orientalist scholars like Théophile Gautier and Ernest Renan, and the journals of the painter EugPne Fromentin. The significance of these accounts in forming the historic, cultural, and a political framework for defining the East in the Western mind is critical to the study of colonialism.



The Egyptian Revival: An Introductory Study of a Recurring Theme in the History of Taste. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1982.Middleton CB 245 C87 1982

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AS THE TITLE SUGGESTS, Curl writes of the numerous Egyptian revivals, the most famous of which was the direct result of Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign. Curl covers 2,000 years of revivalist art, beginning with the Greco-Roman absorption of Egyptian religion and artifacts, and ending with the twentieth-century fascination with Egypt. Here we can see a sketch of the sphinx at Giza made by Norden in 1756 and the inspired whimsical rococo sphinx in the European gardens at Veitschochheim (Bavaria, 1763-1775.)



Bibliographie raisonnée des témoignages oculaires imprimés de l’expédition d’Égypte [Comprehensive Bibliography of Printed Eye Witness Testimonies of the Egyptian Expedition] Paris: F. and R. Chamonal, 1993. Middleton DC225. M48

AFTER 1801, LARGE NUMBERS of cultural studies, histories, and travel descriptions of the campaign were published in France, as scholars, scientists, soldiers and explorers felt compelled to write about their extraordinary experiences in Egypt. The “Comprehensive Bibliography of Printed Eye Witness Testimonies of the Egyptian Expedition” is an essential guide to printed accounts written by the participants in the Egyptian campaign. De Meulenaere’s book provides rich evidence regarding the large volume of these publications, and how the events of the Egyptian campaign continued to haunt readers and writers throughout the nineteenth century.



La Bataille d’Aboukir, ou les Arabes du désert [The Battle of Aboukir, or the Arabs of the Desert]. Paris: Barba, 1810. Anonymous loan

THE BATTLE OF ABOUKIR, or the Arabs of the Desert is a play which describes actual military scenes from the Egyptian campaign in the form of pantomime. This particular piece re-enacts key events from the battle of Aboukir, the last battle Napoleon fought on Egyptian soil. That popular playwrights, such as Cuvelier de Trie, wrote pieces based on the Egyptian campaign, demonstrates how much public life and culture continued to be affected by recent history after Napoleon’s return to France in 1799.



Voyage en Syrie et en Égypte pendant les années 1783, 1784, et 1785: Suivi de considérations sur la guerre de Russes at des Turks, publiées en 1788 et 1789 [Voyage in Syria and in Egypt during the years 1783, 1784, and 1785: Followed by considerations on the war of the Russians and Turks, published in 1788 and 1789]. Paris: Bossange FrPres, 1822. Rare DS47 V78 1822

BEFORE THE EGYPTIAN CAMPAIGN, Volney was the premier authority on the Near East in France. His two-volume travel description from the 1780s did not romanticize Egypt’s history or current social and political condition, but discussed the ills that plagued the country and explored the military weakness of the Ottoman Empire. Because of these observations, Volney discouraged a conquest of Egypt, but supported his friend Bonaparte politically. Nevertheless, he declined the invitation to accompany the expedition in person. Napoleon brought along a copy of his book to Egypt, and it served as the standard reference source for the better-educated members of the campaign.



Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt [Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Égypte] Translated by Arthur Aiken. London: T.N. Longman & O. Rees, 1803. Middleton DT53 D43 1803a.

ONE OF THE MOST prominent scholars who accompanied Napoleon’s expedition in order to study the monuments of Egypt, Denon published independently his own travel account in the form of the journals he kept in 1798/99. His text was illustrated with etchings of each of the sites that he visited. Denon was a witness to many of the battles and the difficulties involved with the campaign, yet he managed to visit and describe many ancient sites in spite of the dangers from native resistance. He frequently highlights the striking contrast between the achievements of the ancient Egyptians and the decline and decadence of their modern culture.



Bonaparte en Terre Sainte [Bonaparte in the Holy Land]. Paris: Fayard, 1992. Middleton DC226.P35 47 1992

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ILLUSTRATED HERE are maps of the campaign into Syria and the battle of Mount Thabor. Derogy’s study gives a comprehensive account of Napoleon’s aborted incursion into Palestine and the Holy Land. The work analyzes Bonaparte’s campaign critically using historic research and investigative journalism. Derogy documents Bonaparte’s progression northwards into Palestine, the capture of Gaza, and the onset of plague in Jaffa as central events of this extensive study.



Krieg der Franzosen in Aegypten und Syrien am Ende des 18ten Jahrhunderts [War of the French in Egypt and Syria at the End of the Eighteenth Century]. Hamburg [Germany]: Perthes, 1800. Photocopy of original in the Bremen Stadt-Bibliothek. Rare uncataloged

DUMAS’S ACCOUNT reiterates the French versions of Napoleon’s famous expedition. However, the importance of Dumas’ book resides in the fact that it was the only contemporary account of the Egyptian campaign to be written in German. The book is rare even in Germany, and indeed we have been unable to locate another copy in the United States.



1500-1100 B.C.E. 11.5 x 13.5cm From Pages from the Past: Original Leaves from Rare Books and Manuscripts. Washington, D.C.: Foliophiles, Inc., 1926. Rare Flat Z4 F6

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THIS PAPYRUS FRAGMENT is an example of the funerary spells that were deposited into Egyptian tombs. The purpose of these texts was to ensure a pleasant afterlife for the deceased and therefore, collectively, they have become known as the “Book of the Dead.” Interestingly, these particular texts were written not only for kings but were available for nobility as well.

Originally, the concept of afterlife was restricted to royalty. However, by the end of the old kingdom, tombs of the nobles were lavishly furnished, rivaling the King’s pyramid. The nobles believed that they too could conquer death by worshipping Osiris and living virtuously. Access to the afterlife was accorded by a divine tribunal, weighing the heart of the deceased against the feather of truth representing Ma’at. Many Egyptians, however, tried to ensure safe passage to the afterlife by preserving the body and resorting to magical texts.

Napoleon’s scholars were instantly fascinated by their findings of papyrus documents which they reproduced in great numbers in the Description de l’Égypte. However, at the time of the Description’s publishing the meaning of the texts was not known, since Champollion deciphered hieroglyphics only at a later date in 1822. For this reason the papyrus documents were objects of marvel for the scholars.



Extremities: Painting Empire in Post-Revolutionary France. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002. Middleton NX549 .A1 G76 2002

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THE AUTHOR FOCUSES on six paintings, produced by four French artists between 1797 and 1826, to define the historical and cultural context of France’s empire and its colonial politics. Situations of political crises in the colonies translated into images of slavery, revolution, plague, death, revolt, sodomy, decapitation, cannibalism, massacre, degeneration, rape, miscegenation (cohabitation or marriage between persons of different races), and abduction. Arranged in chronological order within the texts, the paintings exemplify the potential of images to represent the cultural and racial differences.



L’Égypte ésotérique: Le savoir occulte des Égyptiens et son influence en occident [Esoteric Egypt: The Occult Knowledge of the Egyptians and its Influence on the West] Monaco: Éditions du Rocher, 2001 Anonymous Loan

HORNUNG’S WORK explores the impact of ancient Egypt’s occult knowledge on Western culture. He reveals that the gods, monuments, and symbols of ancient Egypt were a source of esoteric revelations to Western explorers. Such figures as Hermes Trismegistus and the Egyptian god Thot strongly influenced Western esoteric thought, religion and secret societies, such as the Freemasons.



Napoleon in Egypt: Al-Jabarti’s Chronicle of the First Seven Months of the French Occupation of Egypt, 1798. Princeton and New York: Markus Wiener Publishing, 1998. Middleton DC225 .J3413 1998

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THIS BOOK PRESENTS three versions of the first six months of the French invasion and occupation of Egypt in 1798 from the perspective of the country’s foremost historian of the time. Abd al-Rahman Jabarti (1754-1822) was the first author to write a detailed chronicle about the European encounter with the Egyptians from a native perspective. He ridiculed Napoleon Bonaparte’s claim to be sympathetic to Islam, while he approved of Western efficiency, organization, and scholarly abilities. In the second chronicle, he condemned the French occupation and its consequences. In the third part of his treatise, he chronicled the history of Egypt from 1688 to 1821. Jabarti’s book is of great historical value because it represents one of the very few accounts that show the Egyptian perspective on the events of the French campaign.



Journal inédit d’un commis aux vivres pendant l’expédition d’Égypte. Voyage B Malte et en Égypte, expédition de Syrie [Journal of a Commissary during the Egyptian Expedition. Travels to Malta and Egypt, Expedition into Syria]. Bordeaux: Émile Crugy, 1852. Middleton DC225 L23

THE NAPOLEONIC EXPEDITION into Egypt promised a gain in knowledge and military glory that inspired numerous writings on the campaigns. The diverse range of these testimonies is evident in the eyewitness account of Alexandre Lacorré, commissary (food supplier) to the campaign. Included in Lacorré’s journal are descriptions of archeological discoveries, the revolt of Cairo, and the Syrian campaign.



L’Égypte, une aventure savante, avec Bonaparte, Kléber, Menou, 1798-1801 [Egypt, a Scholarly Adventure, with Bonaparte, Kleber, Menou, 1798-1801]. Paris: Fayard, 1998. Middleton PJ1060 .F7 L37 1998

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THIS BOOK RECOUNTS the adventures and the work of the French scholars, technicians, and artists who accompanied Napoleon Bonaparte’s campaign in Egypt. It presents the scholars as pioneers of the modern study of the Orient in Europe. Laissus’ admiration for this expedition is informed by a French perspective on its imperialist and colonizing venture.



L’Expedition d’Égypte, 1798-1801 [The Egyptian Expedition, 1798-1801]. Paris: Armand Colin, 1989. Middleton DC225.L38 1989

LAURENS DISCUSSES the considerable impact of the French occupation of Egypt on Europe and the Near East that extended beyond the initial arrival of the French colonizers. He deals with the profound social, cultural, and economic effects of the invasion on the Egyptian people, and the widespread European fascination with Egypt that gave rise to an “Egyptian aesthetic.” The interaction between the two cultures produced interesting results. For example, Napoleon’s official portrait painter, Michel Rigo, was commissioned to do a series of works depicting allied Arabic chieftains to decorate the general’s headquarters in Cairo, but the intentions of the artist were often misunderstood by his sitters.



The Orient of the Boulevards: Exoticism, Empire, and the Nineteenth-Century French Theater. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998.

Middleton PQ543 P36 1998 THE ORIENT OF THE BOULEVARDS: Exoticism, Empire, and the Nineteenth-Century French Theater is an interesting study of the Egyptian campaign’s impact on the French stage in the nineteenth century. It examines how “the Orient” was constructed in French theater plays, and reveals the processes by which popular culture helped shape nineteenth-century notions of race, ethnicity, and nationality.



The Allure of Empire: Art in the Service of French Imperialism, 1798-1836. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998. Middleton N6847.P59 1998

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PORTERFIELD EXAMINES the ways in which art was used to justify and promote French colonialism beginning with the Egyptian expedition of Napoleon Bonaparte. He demonstrates that colonialism was a reaction to the conflict initiated by the French Revolution and a release for the pent-up conflicts of this political upheaval. The author also discusses the historical precedents for the establishment of a French Empire that would dominate the Orient in the context of the claims for moral superiority made by the French.



The Napoleonic Survey of Egypt, Description de l’Égypte: The Monuments and Customs of Egypt, Selected Engravings and Texts. Vol. 1. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2001 Middleton DT60. R93 2001 v.1

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RUSSELL EDITED the first comprehensive modern English version of the Description de l’Égypte. These two volumes reproduce all of the engravings from the Antiquités volumes and an additional two hundred engravings selected from the Histoire naturelle and État moderne volumes. The texts that accompany these particular engravings have been faithfully translated so that the reader gains insight into how these monuments and customs were perceived two hundred years ago by Napoleon’s scholars. In addition to the direct translation, Russell outlines the aims of the Egyptian campaign and its wider historical repercussions.

Here we see a copy of the frontispiece to Volume I of Antiquités, which was the first to be published in 1809. The complementary text explains the incorporation of imperial Napoleonic insignia into the overall decorative scheme of a plate that purports to be a scene from ancient Egypt. Not surprisingly, the publication of the first volume coincided with the height of Napoleon’s power in Europe.



The Napoleonic Survey of Egypt, Description de l’Égypte: The Monuments and Customs of Egypt, Selected Engravings and Texts. Vol. 2. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2001. Middleton DT60. R93 2001 V.2

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THIS BOOK is the continuation of Russell’s critical modern English edition of the Description de l’Égypte. The engravings shown here are from the État moderne, Volume II. On the left hand side and in the separately reproduced plates, we can see various portrait studies and costumes of the local inhabitants of late eighteenth-century Egypt. Portrayed on the right is the most formidable Mameluke foe of the French occupiers, Murad-bey. Along with Ibrahim-bey, Murad-bey held supreme power until Napoleon’s military invasion. Eventually, Murad became an ally to the French; hence the artist was able to capture the portrait reproduced here. Murad’s piercing stare, scarred face, and sword serve to highlight his fearless nature. Menacingly, the engraver included the hilt of a dagger barely concealed beneath his garments.



Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, 1978. Anonymous loan

SAID’S ORIENTALISM is a controversial study on how knowledge about the East promoted Western political ends. Using a post-structuralist approach, Said examines “the Orient” as a Western construct across such disciplines as anthropology, linguistics, psychology, and literature. The author argues that the “Orientalist” paradigm ultimately gave rise to misrepresentations and imperialism rather than promoting the dissemination of truth.



Lettres sur l’Égypte, oj l’on offre le parallPle des moeurs anciennes et modernes de ses habitants, oj l’on décrit l’état, le commerce, l’agriculture, le gouvernement du pays & la descente de St. Louis B Damiette, tirée de Joinville & des auteurs arabes, avec des cartes géographiques [Letters on Egypt, where one offers the parallel of the old and modern morals of its inhabitants, where one describes the state, commerce, farming, the government of the country & the descent of St. Louis to Damiette, drawn from Joinville & Arab authors, with geographic maps]. 3 v. in 1. A Paris, et se trouve chez Em. Flon B Bruxelles, 1786. Rare DT49 .S2 1786.

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SAVARY’S DESCRIPTION of Egypt pre-dated the Napoleonic campaign and provided the soldiers with a deceivingly optimist picture of the country. Compiled by Savary from writings by various authors, the work provides general descriptions of cities and ancient sites, the climate and agriculture, as well as religious and cultural aspects of the native Egyptians. This superficial approach to Egypt drew the resentment of Napoleonic soldiers, who, unlike Savary, experienced the harsh reality of the country.



Les savants de Bonaparte [Bonaparte’s scholars]. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1998 Middleton DC 225. S65 1998

SOLÉ’S BOOK SYNTHESIZES the historical facts regarding the academy Napoleon took along on the Egyptian campaign. The last chapter of his study is dedicated to the Description de l’Égypte. A nice addition is the section which gives a short biography of the various scholars who participated in the campaign, frequently illustrated with their portraits. Here we can see Vivant Denon, whose travel description did much to popularize Egyptian themes in nineteenth-century French culture.



Dominique Vivant Denon, French Master of the Nineteenth-Century, vol. 121, pt. 2 of The Illustrated Bartsch. New York: Abaris Books, 1988 Middleton NE90 B213 v. 121 pt. 2

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THE PLATES FOUND in this book are the illustrations that accompanied the text of Vivant Denon’s account of the campaign entitled Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt(Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Égypte), which is also included in this exhibition. All of the engravings were based on Denon’s on-site drawings of Egyptian topography, costumes, battle scenes, and archeological discoveries. The plates shown here are an interior and a panoramic view of the Temple of Apollinopolis Magna at Edfu, which is the best-preserved ancient temple in Egypt to the present day. Archeological illustrations such as these contributed to the rise of Egyptomania during the Napoleonic era.



Essai sur les moeurs et l’esprit des nations [Essay on the Manners and Spirit of Nations] in: Oeuvres complPtes de Voltaire [The Complete Works of Voltaire], vol. 12. Paris: Garnier FrPres, 1877. Middleton PQ2070 1877

PUBLISHED IN 1756, Voltaire’s Essai is the first modern comparative history of civilizations, which included a discussion of Asia. It deals with topics such as the different races of man or the antiquity of nations, defined in such broad terms as Arabia, India, China, and Egypt. There are sections dealing specifically with the Egyptian language, monuments, rites, and mysteries. Treatises like the Essai prepared the intellectual ground for the Egyptian campaign.



Mahomet, ou Le Fanatisme [Mohammed or Fanatism], vol. 2 in: Théâtre de Voltaire [Voltaire’s Plays]. Londres, 1782. Rare Mini 848V889T

MAHOMET IS A PLAY in which Voltaire portrays the founder of Islam as a religious fanatic. His fanaticism is symbolized by the sword that he uses for violent conquest. However, Voltaire’s criticism of religious radicalism is not confined to Islam, but extends to Christian religious narrow-mindedness and intolerance. For Voltaire, religious fanaticism is a universal phenomenon, which the Enlightenment opposes.



Consilium Aegyptiacum published in: La Fascination de l’Égypte: du rLve au project [The Fascination of Egypt: From the Dream to the Project] by Ahmed Youssef. Paris: Harmattan, 1998. Middleton DC59.8 E3 Y68 1998

LEIBNITZ’S CONSILIUM AEGYPTIACUM is one of many plans developed in the eighteenth century for the conquest and colonization of Egypt. Enlightenment thinkers drew up these plans because they were interested in universal human progress and believed that exploring Egypt would help spread the ideals of the Enlightenment. Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign was a realization of these intentions. Leibnitz (1646-1716), a German philosopher, wrote the Consilium Aegyptiacum as a treatise for Louis XIV of France. Although it is not known whether the king actually read this work, its existence is important because it proves that the idea of conquering Egypt gained currency in France as early as 1672.



THE FOLLOWING STUDENTS are responsible for the production of “The Twilight of Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign (1798-1801): Scenes from the Description de l’Égypte”:

  • A.C. Amber Chambers
  • M.D. Mary Dawes
  • J.H. Jennifer Henrichs
  • N.M. Natalie Mault
  • E.M. Elizabeth Myers
  • E.P. Evelyn Pell
  • C.S. Camile Silva
  • Natalie Mault provided the photographs.

Professor Darius Spieth coordinated the production of the exhibition, assisted by Elaine Smyth, Curator of Special Collections. Buddy Ethridge mounted the physical exhibition. Matthew Mullenix mounted the digital exhibition.