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HOW THEY SAW THE COPTS: “UN POÈTE – LES COPTES DANS LA HAUTE EGYPTE, 1874 (A POET – THE COPTS IN UPPER EGYPT, 1874)” BY THE FRENCH PAINTER, HENRIETTE BROWNE

January 29, 2012

The French painter Henriette Browne (1829 – 1901 AD) also known as Sophie de Saux and Nee de Boutellier

Sophie de Bouteillier (1829 – 1901 AD) is known by other names, Sophie de Saux and Nee de Boutellier, but she is better known by her pseudonym, Henriette Browne. She was a French painter and etcher who exhibited at the Salon, in Paris, and the Royal Academy, in London, and was famous for her religious and Orientalist works. She was wife of the French diplomat Henry Jules de Saux, who was secretary to the famous 19th century French politician Count Alexandre Walewksi, who served his country as foreign minister for some time. Walewksi is known to have visited Egypt in 1840 AD.[i] Most probably his secretary Henry Jules de Saux took his wife, Henriette, and accompanied the Count in his visit to Egypt. This seems to be the way Henriette came in touch with Egypt and the Copts.

Un poète – Les Coptes dans la Haute Egypte by Henriette (Sophie) Bouteiller Browne, 1874

Henriette Browne has several paintings of Egyptian theme. One of these is Coptic: Un poète – Les Coptes dans la Haute Egypte (A poet – The Copts in Upper Egypt). The work of art is dated 1974 AD; however, it must have been based on an original work from the year Henriette visited Egypt with her husband; i.e. from 1840 AD. That is the time Muhammad Ali (1805 – 1848 AD) was ruling Egypt and Patriarch Peter VII (1810 – 1852 AD) was head of the Coptic Church.

The work, which was put on sale by Christie’s London in 2000 for 15,000 – 20,000 GBP (USD 22,772 – 30,362,[ii] is oil on Canvas and with dimensions of 62.2 x 72.4 cm (24.5 x 28.5 in.). It is dated and signed.

The painting depicts two Coptic men from Upper Egypt at their home. We don’t know where exactly in Upper Egypt, but it may have been from Luxor, Asyut, Sohag, or Qena – I think they were most probably from Luxor, a town many European travellers visited to see the Pharaonic sites of ancient Thebes. The two men, who are sitting on a long bench, are most probably father and son. It seems that the father is dictating a letter, or something, to his son, who is using a wooden pen, and keeps the ink pot sitting on the bench on his left side. A few paper works lie on the bench. One can see the beautiful carpet and the oriental coffee table with a coffee pot sitting on it. Although the title of the painting is “Un poète”, I tend to think these two were clerks, from the class of the educated Copts who were good at writing, maths and accounts-keeping, the class on which the administration of the state depended to a large degree. On the wall is hanging a poster on which is written in beautiful Arabic script the Coptic trinitarian phrase “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; One God. Amen.” Underneath that, one can discern the words “yaso’a al-mase’ih”, the Arabic for Jesus Christ.

An accurate painting, as this one is, can be used by historians to study life and conditions of peoples in particular periods. One can see very clearly the dark dress code of the Copts, including robe and turban. One can also see the fabric belt the older man wears. This is the code of dress (ghiyar غيار) which was imposed on Copts by Muslim authorities to differentiate between Copts and the Muslims, and to enable the latter to mistreat and keep Copts in their “proper place”. As we said before in other articles, this changed only after the end of the Crimean War and the promulgation of the Hamayouni Decree by the Ottoman Empire, something which was done only after much pressure by the European Powers of the time, particularly Britain and France.

But this is perhaps one of the most beautiful, and I would add most accurate, paintings by any European artist in the 19th century of a Coptic subject. Copts would be advised to get a copy and hang it at their homes to keep reminding them of how things were, particularly ghi’yar and all that it represented and meant.

How to cite this article: Dioscorus Boles (29 January 2012), HOW THEY SAW THE COPTS: “Un poète – Les Coptes dans la Haute Egypte, 1874 (A poet – The Copts in Upper Egypt, 1874)” BY THE FRENCH PAINTER, HENRIETTE BROWNE, https://copticliterature.wordpress.com/2012/01/29/how-they-saw-the-copts-un-poete-les-coptes-dans-la-haute-egypte-1874-a-poet-the-copts-in-upper-egypt-1874-by-the-french-painter-henriette-browne/


[i] It is not clear for how long they stayed in Egypt.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. mindthehat permalink
    January 29, 2012 5:01 pm

    Beautiful painting.

  2. January 30, 2012 12:55 am

    A beautifull painting great eye for detail.
    I’m surprised a painting of this quality is appraised so low, surely i would estimate it higher than that.Especially by Christie’s i wonder for how much it finally went.
    Will.

    • Dioscorus Boles permalink
      January 30, 2012 1:51 pm

      I agree with you. I was surprised when I read that it was put for sale at that low price. I am not sure who bought it or how much it fetched. But I will try to ask Christie’s and if I get a reply from them will update you.

  3. Peter permalink
    February 5, 2012 11:00 am

    A very nice piece. I do agree every Copt should hang it, not because of ghi‘yar but for the very scene of writing and education..

  4. Dioscorus Boles permalink
    February 5, 2012 5:42 pm

    Very much agree.

  5. June 29, 2013 1:48 am

    Reblogged this on .

  6. Paula Tutty permalink
    August 15, 2013 11:16 pm

    In this time of sadness and foreboding how important it is to see the faces of earlier generations and know that they went through many vicissitudes. I hope you are well and not too dispirited by what is happening now in Egypt.

  7. March 19, 2015 5:31 am

    I have a painting by this artist given to me by my father. It has title of young monk. I believe she painted this when she was in Egypt.

    • Dioscorus Boles permalink*
      March 19, 2015 11:20 am

      Thanks! Can you please post a photo if the painting and the label?

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