Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Monuments of Nubia and Egypt

Jean-François Champollion was a veritable genius at languages from a young age and while Professor of History in Grenoble, he was entrusted with the task of deciphering the Rosetta Stone which had been discovered in 1799. With his publication of the Precis du Systeme Hieroglyphique des Anciens Egyptiens in 1824 after 2 years work, he established himself as the modern founder of egyptology (to be fair, this was not a single-handed discovery: Silvestre deSacy, Thomas Young and Stephen Weston all made significant contributions before Champollion who used his knowledge of the coptic language to finally piece the code together).

In 1825 Champollion met and befriended an Italian linguist and theologian, Ippolito Rosellini, who shared Champollion's passion for Egyptian archaeology and hieroglyph translation. They embarked on a year long expedition to Egypt in 1828 - Champollion's intuitive skills, leadership and assiduous notetaking matched by Rosellini's engraving and analytical abilities.

Government funding for the joint Italian-French mission allowed them to take a team that included a naturalist, an engineer/architect and a group of draftsmen/illustrators to help record the monumental inscriptions.

Sadly, the trip resulted in a (premediated) wholesale pillaging of the ancient monuments which were dynamited and disassembled to supply the European museums with displays from the antiquities.

Following the early demise of Champillion from a stroke (aged 42) Rosselini set about compiling their accumulated findings, including the artwork/engraving undertaken by Salvador Cherubini, Carlo Lasinio, Gaetano Rosellini and Giuseppe Angelelli, with the intention of publishing a 10 volume record of their results. 8 volumes had been released by the time of Rosselini's death in 1843; a further volume came out posthumously, but the final volume was never completed.

The rigorously scientific and exhaustive recording of the monumental inscriptions, archaeological findings together with agricultural, zoological and anthropological observations and illustrations gives the treatise an almost encyclopedic scope. Immediately upon publication it became the gold standard for the burgeoning field of egyptology and it remains both a classic and obligatory reference point to this day - most importantly because it documents a snapshot of the relics and inscriptions that are now lost or scattered around in various museum archives.
[I cleaned up some background in a number of these illustrations - ghosting mostly]

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