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Customer Review

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding drawings and paintings, 22 Oct. 2012
This review is from: Atlas of Egyptian Art (Paperback)
"Atlas of Egyptian Art" presents drawings and paintings made by the French 19th century Egyptologist Prisse d'Avennes during his first and second trips to Egypt. The book - published by the American University in Cairo Press - comes with an introduction by Maarten J. Raven and captions by Oluf E. Kaper.

[MJR and OEK are Dutch Egyptologists, but their texts are in English.]

Emile Prisse D'Avennes (1807-1879) was educated as an architect and engineer, but his personal interest led him to become an Egyptologist. His first visit to Egypt lasted from 1827 to 1844; his second from 1858 to 1860. During these visits he made many drawings and paintings of ancient tombs and temples, most of which were published in Paris during the last ten years of his life, between 1868 and 1878.

[A similar project was undertaken by the Italian scholar Ippolito Rosellini, who visited Egypt (with the French scholar Jean-Francois Champollion) 1828-1829. Some of his drawings and paintings are published in The Monuments of Egypt and Nubia.]

The material in the "Atlas" is divided into five sections:

(1) Architecture
(2) Drawings
(3) Sculptures
(4) Paintings
(5) Industrial Art

All illustrations are interesting and valuable, because they document the condition of the ancient monuments in the 19th century. Since then some monuments have suffered further damage, and the colours of some paintings have faded a great deal. But some of these illustrations are more than just interesting and valuable; they are outstanding.

In fact, they are so good that they are often used in modern books about ancient Egypt, for instance Ramesses II by T. G. H. James. Here are some of the best cases:

* Pillars of Thutmosis III decorated with a papyrus plant (symbol of Lower Egypt, the north) and with a lily (symbol of Upper Egypt, the south); from Karnak: page 14.

* A column decorated with patterns and hieroglyphs: from the Ramesseum: page 23.

* A ceiling pattern, which uses the winged scarab with a sun disc, symbolizing rebirth after death (this image also appears on the cover of the book); from a tomb in the necropolis of Thebes: page 30.

* Three ceiling patterns; two show two vultures, while the third shows a gaggle of geese; from different locations: page 35.

* One of two obelisks erected by Ramesses II in front of the Luxor temple; in 1833 it was transported to Paris, and today it stands in the Place de la Concorde: page 62.

* A sketch representing Sethi I; from his tomb in the Valley of the Kings: page 67.

* The capture of a fortress by Ramesses II; from the Ramesseum: page 79.

* A royal chariot; from a tomb in Tell el-Amarna: page 84.

* Akhenaten and his family; from two tombs in Tell el-Amarna: pp. 78 and 89.

* The small temple at Abu Simbel dedicated to Nefertari and Hathor: page 99.

* Ramesses II leading the Egyptian army in battle against the Hittites; from the Ramesseum: page 102.

* A portrait of Ti and his wife: from the Mastaba of Ti, Sakkara: page 108

* A portrait of Queen Tyti, probably a daughter of Ramesses III; from her tomb in the Valley of the Queens: page 114.

* Five scenes with people at work; from different locations: pp. 117-121.

* A portrait of Ramesses II. Prisse d'Avennes copied this painting from a tomb behind the Ramesseum in 1843. When he returned in 1859, the tomb had disappeared: page 126.

* A portrait of Merenptah; from his tomb in the Valley of the Kings: page 127.

* A portrait of Queen Nebtawy, daughter of Ramesses II; from her tomb in the Valley of the Queens: page 128.

* A portrait of Ramesses III; from his tomb in the Valley of the Kings: page 131.

Prisse d'Avennes is often described with positive words. It is easy to understand why. As Maarten Ravens says in his introduction: "Prisse's drawings, plans, and reconstructions of well-known monuments excel in their meticulous precision and daring originality and have lost nothing of their value."

But not everything about him is positive. Raven begins: "This collection of works demonstrates that Prisse was a remarkable scholar and an able draftsman." But then he adds: "Yet it cannot be denied that there was another side to his personality; an exactingness and imperiousness, an unremitting scrupulosity and a disdain for etiquette, that set him apart from his contemporaries."

In addition, he did something which was illegal and seems to go against everything that he stands for: one night in May 1843 he entered the Karnak temple complex with a team of workers and dismantled the so-called king list in the Hall of the Ancestors. The blocks with the king list were placed in boxes, and the following year they were smuggled out of the country and transported to France. Today they are in the Louvre in Paris.

[Champollion did something similar during his 1828-1829 expedition with Rosellini: during a visit to the tomb of Sethi I in the Valley of the Kings he removed a part of the wall decoration and took it with him to France. Today this would be considered an act of vandalism.]

However, the purpose of this review is to evaluate the book, and not the man. Raven concludes his introduction with the following words:

"He was far ahead of his time in his awareness of the vulnerability of the monuments and the need to protect and record them... The present reprint of Prisse's Atlas, the plates of which have lost nothing of their value for modern Egyptology, is a fitting tribute to the memory of the great orientalist."

I agree with him. The "Atlas" is a beautiful book. If you like ancient history, in particular ancient Egypt, I am sure you are going to love this book.
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