ALBERT GAYET, THE ARCHEOLOGIST OF ANTINOPOLIS (ANTINOE), THE POMPEI OF EGYPT, AND DISCOVERER OF THE COPTIC TREASURE OF MUMMIES, PORTRAITS, SHROUDS AND FABRICS
ALBERT GAYET, THE FRENCH ARCHEOLOGIST OF ANTINOPOLIS CAUSED COPTOMANIA IN EUROPE AND AMERICA AT THE BEGINNING OF THE 2oth CENTURY WHEN HE EXIBITED HIS TREASURE OF COPTIC FINDINGS AT ANTINOPOLIS (ANTINOE), THE DESIGNATED POMEI OF EGYPT
I have tried to find detailed biography of the French archeologist, Albert Gayet, who discovered the fascinating Coptic mummies and their attachments at the Coptic necropolis in Antinoplis (Antinoe/Coptic Ensena/ Sheikh ‘Ibada village now), which he started excavating since 1896. Unfortunately, I could not find any in the English language, not even on Wikipedia. The only biography I found on Wikipedia is in the French, which I pull my courage to translate to English for the benefit of my readers. Albert Gayet is simply a very important figure in the study of Coptic culture and cannot be ignored – and his discoveries, which have not been studied properly, yet, are essential tool in rediscovering the brilliant Coptic civilisation. Thanks to the Louvre, Albert Gayet’s Coptic treasure, which caused Western Coptomania (Coptomanie) when it was exhibited at the beginning of the 20th century, is being restudied using the most advanced research. One would hope it will reignite Western interest in our great, hitherto ignored civilisation. At the end, I reproduce a paragraph from the Wikipedia’s article on Antinopolis, in which there is some detail about Albert Gayet.
Albert Gayet (born in Dijon on September 17, 1856 and died in Paris on May 9, 1916) was a French Egyptologist and director of excavations at Antinoe from 1895 to 1911.
His full name was Jean Philippe Marie Albert Gayet, son of Antoine Gayet, skins merchant, and Claudine Emélie Flessière.
When Augustus Mariette created in 1858 the Department of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo, Egypt, Roman and Coptic objects were not on the list of his priorities. He accepted, however, sending Albert Gayet, who was then a young student and researcher with Gaston Maspero at the School of Advanced Studies, 300 miles south of Cairo to Antinoe, a city in Middle Egypt founded by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 130AD. This mission was funded by Émile Guimet (1836-1918), a wealthy industrialist from Lyon, who was an archeology enthusiast, through the Chamber of Commerce of Lyon and the French Society of Archeological Excavations.
Antinoe, the Egyptian Pompei
For fifteen years Albert Gayet searched in the area, clearing the temple of Ramses II in 1896 and uncovering the Coptic necropolis, while Jean Clédat, another student of Maspero, discovered the monasteries of Saint John at Saqqara and Bawit in Middle Egypt. The two scientists rediscovered the beauty of Coptic art; and the most beautiful objects were shared between the Cairo Museum and the Louvre.
Coptomania in Europe
In 1902, Albert Gayet wrote the first book ever written on Coptic art. His enthusiasm induced the Russian Vladimir de Bock (1850-1899) to follow on his footsteps and study stelae, carved doorsand fabrics and brought them to the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg. In 1900, the Coptic textiles were shown at the Universal Exhibition in Paris causing a real Coptomania (Coptomanie) in Europe. In the 1930s, the Venetian painter and fabrics designer, Mariano Fortuny Y Madrazo resurrected the Coptic patterns of embroidery and shape of garments.
Albert Gayet died at his home in Paris in 1916 and bequeathed his collections to his sister Mary. On the death of Miss Gayet in 1924, these collections were donated to the city of Dijon, and so the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon came to possess collections of Coptic textiles (450 pieces), fragments of clothing and woven and decorated linen.
A street has been named after him in Dijon.
Albert Gayet was known as the “archaeologist of Antinopolis” and without his extensive research and documentation of the site, very little would be known about this Greco-Roman city. Though there is much data of Antinopolis recorded from the Napoleon Commission, Albert Gayet’s report sheds a greater light on the ancient city. As Christianity began to spread through the Roman Empire, Antinopolis became a place of worship. Centuries after the city of Antinous was established by the Roman emperor, Christianity became the way of life. The city was home to many nuns and monks and sanctuaries were popping up everywhere. Many came to worship saints, such as Claudius and Colluthus, and monasteries were abundant (Donadoni, 1991). Albert Gayet’s findings confirm the widespread of Christianity. Gayet’s excavations have revealed mummies, grave goods, and thousands of fabrics at the site of Antinopolis and he uncovered a large cemetery, the burial place of numerous Coptic Christians. Mummiﬁcation was prohibited by law in the fourth century A.D., therefore the remains of deceased Christians were dressed in tunics and swaddled with other textiles before being buried (Hoskins, 2007). Gayet’s findings give researchers a better understanding of early Christian burial practices and his preservation of artistic textiles found at the site show off the Coptic style that was evolving. The transformation of style, creating the Coptic style, was the canonical art of ancient Egypt infused with Classical and then Christian art (“Textiles,” 2003). The findings of Albert Gayet have provided researchers with great evidence of change throughout Antinopolis in the ancient world.
 I have spoken about the great Louvre effort in my article: Secrets of the Coptic Mummies of Antinopolis (le mystère des momies coptes d’antinoé).