MU’ALLEM YA’QUB PORTRAIT BY VALENTINE HOMSY المعلم يعقوب بريشة الفنانة القبطية الفرنسية فالنتاين حمصي
In a previous article[i] we saw that the famous French savant and artist, Vivant Denon, had drawn a portrait of Mu’allem Ya’qub sometime in 1798/9, when they met in the French campaign in Upper Egypt under the leadership of General Desaix, who was sent by Napoleopn Bonaparte to chase up and finally defeat the fleeing Murad and his Mamluks. Denon accompanied the French expedition as a member of the Institut d’Égypte, while Mu’allem Ya’qub functioned as its general steward, and fought in it as a gallant soldier. Denon wrote his Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Egypte, pendant les Campagnes du Général Bonaparte[ii] in 1802 about the French expedition in Egypt after he had returned back to France with Bonaparte. He attached to the book an atlas of artistic work, which included a portrait of Mu’allem Ya’qub (he called him, Mallem Jacob). I have published the drawing which Denon made of Ya’qub in the article.
Denon’s portrait seems to be little known in Egypt.[iii] What is known is a secondary drawing that has been derived from the original. In 1821, Gaston Homsy, who was a one of the descendants of Mu’allem Ya’qub, wrote a book about his great relative, Le général Jacob et l’expedition de Bonaparte en Égypte (1798-1801).[iv] In page 113 of the book, we find a portrait of Mu’allem Ya’qub signed by Valentine Homsy, and titled “Moallem Jacob”. Gaston was an interesting Copt on his own right. In addition to this book, he has authored several other books and articles, including: Si les Allemande avalent gagné la guerre… roman (Reliure inconnue; 1821); ‘Un Egyptien colonel dans les armées de Napoléon 1er, Bulletin de l’Institut d’Egypte 10 (1823): 83–96; Quand J’eus Treize Ans Ou Silhouettes Marseillaises (Broché – 1836); Contribution à l’étude de l’épidémiologie et de la prophylaxie de la méningite cérébro-spinale épidémique (Reliure inconnue; 1837);[v] Ressorts poétiques (Reliure inconnue; 1896); Les Baisers restent (Reliure inconnue; 1897). Gaston Homsy’s wife, Valentine Homsy, has heavily illustrated Quand J’eus Treize Ans Ou Silhouettes Marseillaises, and her name is printed beside him as an illustrator. We know then that Valentine was an accomplished artist.
Clearly, Valentine Homsy’s picture has been taken from Vivant Denon’s original sketch. The only change has been taking out other characters from the original – the two Coptic monks. The torso of one of the two monks conceals part of Ya’qub’s neck and right shoulder. Valentine Homsy’s reproduction shows Ya’qub’s full neck and right shoulder covered with a shawl.
Mu’allem Ya’qub’s portrait by Valentine Homsy has been used by later Egyptian writers who wrote about General Ya’qub, including Shafiq Ghurbal in his Al-ganral Ya’qub wal faris Laskaris wa mashro’a istiqlal masr fi sanat 1801 (الجنرال يعقوب والفارس لاسكاريس ومشروع إستقلال مصر في سنة ١٨٠١ )[vi] and Ahmad Hussain Al-Sawi: Al-mu’allem Ya’qub bayn al-haqiqa wal ustoura (المعلم يعقوب بين الأسطورة والحقيقة ).[vii]
[i] See: Dioscorus Boles (31 May 2012), The Face of Mu’allem Ya’qub Hanna, The Great Coptic Hero, By The French Artist Vivant Denon (at On Coptic Nationalism).
[ii] Paris; P. Didot l’aîné; An X 1802.
[iii] I don’t think his book has ever been translated into Arabic. But again Gaston Homsy’s book on Ya’qub hasn’t been translated either.
[iv] Le général Jacob et l’expedition de Bonaparte en Égypte (1798-1801) by Gaston Homsy (Marseille, Les Éditions indépendantes, 1921. This book has not yet been translated into English or Arabic.
[v] The author’s name is given as de Antoine-Edouard-Gaston Homsy.
[vi] Cairo; 2009.
[vii] Cairo; 1986.