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February 18, 2016


The above lithograph is titled Bernardino Drovetti measuring a colossal head in the Egyptian desert, and is dated to 1819.[1] It was made by Godefroy Engelmann (1788 – 1839), a famous Franco-German lithographer and chromolithographer[2]. In it is shown Bernardino Drovetti (1776 – 1852), the famous Italo-French antiquities collector,[3] using a plumb line to measure the head, and is surrounded by some Egyptians. The chromolithograph was one of the 80 plates in Voyage dans le Levant by the Comte de Forbin,[4] who visited Egypt in 1818-1819, and published the book in 1819. The chromolithograph is based on his original painting.

The piece of art is interesting in many ways, but I am drawn to the kind of Egyptians surrounding Drovetti: there are Turks and Arabs wearing coloured costumes (red, white, yellow) and weapons; there is a Bisharin man from the larger Beja tribe; there is a Fellah woman; and then there are two inconspicuous figures of two young men wearing blue turbans and dark robes, and they don’t seem to carry weapons, whether daggers, or swords or staff. I suspect these were Copts, possibly scribes. Even in the reign of Muhammad Ali (1811 – 1848), and despite his relative tolerance, Copts were required to wear distinctive costume to differentiate them from Muslims. This did not change in Egypt until the British arrived in Egypt in 1882.



[1] It is kept at Stapleton Historical Collection, London.

[2] A chromolithograph is a coloured lithograph.

[3] Bernardino Drovetti was an Italian who gained the French citizenship, and was famous as ancient Egyptian antiquities collector, particularly from Luxor area. He joined the French campaign in Egypt (1798 – 1801) and later became the French Consul-General of Egypt between 1820 and 1829.

[4] Louis Auguste, comte de Forbin (1779 – 1841) was French painter and later curator of the Musée du Louvre. He visited Egypt in 1818-1819, and published The Voyage dans le Levant in 1819, with 80 plates.


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