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The Monuments of Egypt and Nubia
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 23 October 2012
"The Monuments of Egypt and Nubia" presents drawings and paintings made by the Italian 19th century Egyptologist Ippolito Rosellini during his first and only trip to Egypt. The book - published by the American University in Cairo Press and White Star (Italy) - comes with a text written by Franco Serino and translated into English by Richard Pierce. The graphic design is done by Clara Zanotti. The format is large, ca. 26 x 36 cm.

Ippolito Rosellini (1800-1843) was born in Pisa and educated in Bologna. In 1824 he was appointed as a lecturer of Oriental languages at the University of Pisa. In 1825 he met the French scholar Jean-François Champollion (probably) in Florence. This was just three years after the latter had cracked the code of the hieroglyphs.

The two men became good friends and met again in 1826. They dreamed of going to Egypt together, and their dream became true when the Franco-Tuscan Expedition was approved and funded by Charles X (king of France 1824-1830) and Leopold II (Grand Duke of Tuscany 1824-1859).

During the expedition, which lasted from July 1828 to December 1829, Rosellini made many drawings and paintings of ancient tombs and temples, which were published in nine volumes from 1832 to 1844.

[A similar project was undertaken by the French scholar Emile Prisse d'Avennes, who visited Egypt 1827-1844 and 1858-1860. Some of his drawings and paintings are published in Atlas of Egyptian Art.]

In "The Monuments of Egypt and Nubia" you will find a broad selection of Rosellini's work. The book is divided into two parts:

(1) Rosellini and the Rediscovery of Ancient Egypt in the Nineteenth Century
(2) Egyptian and Nubian monuments

All illustrations in this book 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 and The Realm of the Pharaohs by Zahi Hawass. Here are some of the best cases:

THE BATTLES AND VICTORIES OF RAMESSES II; from Abu Simbel
* Ramesses in his chariot: pp. 2-3
* Ramesses presenting prisoners of war to the gods: pp. 6-7
* Ramesses smiting foreign prisoners: pp. 38-39
* Ramesses crushing foreigners: page 42
* Ramesses in triumph: pp. 44-45

THE BATTLE OF KADESH, ca. 1274 BC; from Abu Simbel
* Line drawings: pp. 46-47 and 52-53
* Colour paintings: pp. 48-51

* People at work: pp. 74-83
* Domestic life: pp. 86-87
* Furniture: pp. 100-101
* Musicians and dancers: pp. 102-107
* Funerary scenes: pp. 112-117

* Seti [or Sethi] I among gods; from his tomb in the Valley of the Kings: pp. 118-119

* Ramesses X makes offerings to the gods; from his tomb in the Valley of the Kings: pp. 120-121

* Ramesses III makes offerings to the gods; from his tomb in the Valley of the Kings: page 125

The text is reliable as far as I can see, but there is a baffling mistake on page 22 where Serino describes the Horus temple in Edfu. He claims work on this temple began "in 327 BC under Ptolemy III," and that it was "completed in the first decades of the Christian era."

The reference to Ptolemy III (246-222 BC) is correct. But the year is wrong. The work began in 237 BC and was completed in 57 BC. The reference to "the first decades of the Christian era" is completely misplaced.

Rosellini and Champollion were not only scholars, they were also collectors. One example of this aspect is described on pp. 26-27 where Rosellini goes to see a recently discovered tomb in the west necropolis of Gurna. Inside he finds four mummy coffins. In his diary he writes: "I bought the lot for 32 thalers, plus a bakshish [tip] of 16 piastres."

On page 27 we are told that the members of the expedition arrived at the Valley of the Kings "where they found comfortable lodgings in the tomb of Ramesses IV." Today you cannot use an ancient royal tomb as your hotel room!

On the same page Serino mentions "the stupendous tomb of Seti I, which had been discovered by [the Italian explorer] Giovanni Battista Belzoni in 1817." Then he adds: "Champollion and Rosellini removed two low reliefs from this tomb; they can now be seen at the Louvre in Paris and the National Archaeological Museum in Florence." Today this would be considered as an act of vandalism.

[Prisse d'Avennes did something similar during his first visit to Egypt: 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.]

However, the purpose of this review is to evaluate the book, and not the man. On page 8 Rosellini is described as "an illustrious citizen who became the pupil and spiritual heir of Champollion" and as "the father of Italian Egyptology."

On page 29 Serino says: "... for his total dedication to the study of the new discipline and his great virtues as a historian, philologist, and researcher, Rosellini deserves to stand alongside Champollion and [the Prussian scholar Karl Richard] Lepsius as one of the three founders of modern Egyptology."

I agree with him. "The Monuments of Egypt and Nubia" is a fitting tribute to the memory of an important scholar. If you like ancient history, in particular ancient Egypt, I am sure you are going to love this book.
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