STATEN ISLAND, NY.-The Snug Harbor Cultural Center presents the exhibit Napoleon on the Nile: Soldiers, Artists, and the Rediscovery of Egypt through June 15. This spring the Museum will focus on the Description de lEgypte, the seminal multi-volume work that remains the single most important European scholarly study of ancient and modern Egypt. Initiated under the patronage of the young General Napoleon Bonaparte as he invaded Egypt in 1798, and completed in 1829 during the reign of King Charles X, the Description was among the most significant, and certainly the most tangible, consequences of the French militarys occupation of Egypt (1798-1801). Not only did it form the foundation for the modern discipline of Egyptology, but its large and magnificent plate illustrations influenced the course of "Egyptomania" and Orientalism in western fine and decorative arts for two centuries. These plates, along with letters, documents, medals, decorative artworks, maps, and prints, will be selected by Dahesh Associate Curator Lisa Small from the Bob Brier Collection. The majority of paintings in the exhibition were drawn from the Dahesh Museum of Arts permanent collection of Orientalist works. The Museums Trustees and staff gratefully acknowledge our colleague Professor Bob Brier (C. W. Post Campus of Long Island University), the renowned Egyptologist and host of the TLC Series, The Great Egyptians, for his advice and enthusiastic encouragement. The Museum is also indebted to Princeton University Museum of Art, the Fordham Library and to generous private collectors, including The David Markham Collection, for their loans to the exhibition.
The exhibition tells the story of Napoleons ill-fated bid to add Egypt to the growing French empire, and how the British, who had their own colonial interests in the region to protect, ultimately thwarted this plan. The major battles and characters will be depicted in various prints and commemorative medals representing both the British and French perspectives. Fascinating archival letters, documents, and official bulletins, signed by Napoleon and some of his most important generals, will reveal both the grand sweep of the military endeavor as well as intriguing glimpses of the daily life and activities of the soldiers. Of particular interest are documentscountersigned by Napoleonrelating to the interaction between local Arab officials and the French occupying forces.
The astonishing range and precision of the Description plates was captured by Napoleons savants167 physicians, engineers, economists, mathematicians, zoologists, botanists, archeologists, translators, journalists, and artists who accompanied the army. Their task was to catalogue all of Egypts wonders, from the architectural ruins of a still mysterious ancient civilization (some no longer extant) to indigenous flora and fauna. The resulting body of work took roughly twenty years and 2,000 skilled draftsmen and typographers to complete. Their 10 volumes of plates (accompanying 13 volumes of text) became a renowned image bank consulted by artists seeking authenticity in their own pictures.
Works drawn from the Dahesh Museums permanent collection, by diverse artists such as Gustave Doré, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Charles-Théodore Frère, and Frederick Arthur Bridgman, will be displayed among the plates to demonstrate how the scientific vision was transformed into an artistic one, which, in turn, continues to shape m any contemporary ideas of Egypt. Augmenting this presentation will be a selection of objects, from authentic Egyptian antiquities pictured in the plates to pieces of the Wedgwood and Sèvres services commemorating Napoleons expedition.