1809 Geology – The Minerals of Egypt Pl.4

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Plate 4: GEBEL SELSELEH & MONTAGNE ROUGE Pouddingue Memnonien. Caillou d’Egypte. Gres Ferrugineux.  Gres Monumental.  Gres a Ciment Siliceux.

Western culture from Greco-Roman times through to the 18th Century had always shown a fascination with Egypt; but the modern fascination with all things Egyptian truly accelerated in the wake of Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Egypt in 1798.

On July 1st 1798 the French invasion of Egypt, brought not only 400 ships with some 50,000 sailors and soldiers to its shores but also the celebrated Commission des Sciences et Arts d’Egypte (Commission on the Sciences and Arts of Egypt). On board were 167 scientists in the fields of engineering, surveying, hydraulics, botany, mathematics, mineralogy, geology and the arts. These skilled French artists and scientists were accompanied by some 287 books and printing presses outfitted in foreign languages. Their mission was to document the antiquities – monuments from Philae, Luxor, Dendera and the Valley of the Kings– as well as modern life, natural history and the botanical, mineralogical and other scientific characteristics of hidden Egypt. Though the military invasion was an ultimate failure, the scholarly one was successful beyond anyone’s expectations.

From this unique group of scholars – who meticulously copied, measured, engraved and sketched – emerged the famous publication Description de l’Egypte. This monumental multivolume work was the most important accomplishment of the invasion; and Ancient Egypt was discovered. The meticulous detail of these records showed pharaonic Egypt as it had never been portrayed before. Not to be minimized in importance, was the discovery in 1799 of the great Rosetta Stone, which was to unlock the inscrutable hieroglyphic writings of the ancient Egyptians. The influence of the Description…; and the interest in all things Egyptian; created the Egyptian Revival style of architecture and design and the phenomena of Egyptomania. Consequently a new avenue of study was born, the study of ‘all things Egyptian’ which we know today as Egyptology. The Napoleonic Expedition and resultant publications contributed to the lasting influence of these movements throughout the 19th and 20th century.

The Commission returned to France in 1801 with the failure of the invasion. The scientists and contributors continued to organize their material publishing the first volumes of Description de l’Égypte in 1809. The work was completed in 1828 extending to 23 volumes.  Three of these volumes were the largest books that had ever been printed, standing over a metre tall. The total set contained 837 engravings, many of them of unprecedented size, capturing modern and ancient Egyptian culture from every aspect.

François-Michel de Rozière (1775-1842), a mining engineer and mineralogist was assigned to study and catalogue the mineralogy and geography for the Commission shortly after finishing his studies at the School of Mines, as an assistant to the Chief Minerologist, Deodat de Dolomieu. The latter became ill and was sent home after nine months, making Roziere, the Chief Mineralogist at the tender age of 23 on the expedition. With several competing classification methods to describe mineral and rock specimens at the time, he provided detailed illustrations as his primary method of presentation. These magnificent large elephant folio plates, prepared under his close supervision, were more than just illustrations. They were a means of visually expressing information in an accurate and detailed manner. When combined with his textual explanations of the plates, Rozière’s contribution to the geology and mineralogy of Egypt became a significant work of reference. The mineralogy section in the Description de l’Égypte contains 115 illustrations on 15 plates in full colour, of the principal rocks found in Egypt’s landscape, and in its monuments

Rozière’s other significant contribution was a very long study of the physical geography of Egypt. It was substantial enough to be a separate book, but it was published as part of the textual memoirs of the Description de l’Égypte. There he astutely observed that every aspect of Egyptian culture, its religion, laws, and customs, was dependent on a single physical feature — the rise and fall of the Nile. That made Egypt unique among civilized nations.

These magnificent plates, and the memoirs that he wrote for the Description, were François-Michel de Rozière’s only formal scholarly contribution to science

Reference:             Linda Hall Library – Napoleon and the Scientific Expedition to Egypt

                                University of Tennessee – Napoleon and Egyptomania in Tennessee

Dimensions 55 × 46 cm
Artist

Dimensions with Mount

76 x 66cm

Publication

Description de L'Egypte – First Edition

Publisher

De L'Imprimerie Imperial

Specimen Location

Gebel Selseleh & Montagne Rouge

Date

Paris 1809-1828

Condition

Original hand-colouring. Slight toning throughout.

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