A Snake Charmer (Medinet Habu, Thebes), 1872

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France's Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) invaded Egypt in July 1798 with 400 ships and 55,000 soldiers in an attempt to control the commercial land route to India and deal a significant blow to Britain's economy. During the relatively brief period of the French occupation (his troops surrendered to the British in September 1801), Napoleon encouraged more than 150 artists, engineers, mathematicians, naturalists and scientists (savants) to record with exacting precision Egypt's buildings, its monuments, flora, fauna and terrain as well as the region's society and forms of commerce.

What resulted was the Déscription de l'Égypte (1809-1822), the multi-volume compendium on ancient and modern Egypt. Its scholarly contents and plate illustrations contributed to the development of Egyptology. Editions of the work influenced the nineteenth-century Orientalist movement in European painting. It has also figured largely in Egyptomania (the periodic fascination with things Egyptian) for more than 200 years.

Napoleon on the Nile: Soldiers, Artists, and the Rediscovery of Egypt explores Western Europe's interest in Egyptian art and culture from the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt to the beginning of World War I through bound and unbound copies of the Déscription de l'Égypte, decorative arts, illustrated books, medals, paintings and prints. The exhibition is divided into five sections: Napoleon and the Egyptian Campaign; The Savants and the Institut d'Égypte; Ancient Egypt; Natural History; and Modern Egypt.

"Napoleon on the Nile: Soldiers, Artists, and the Rediscovery of Egypt" is on view from June 8, 2006 to April 29, 2007 at the Dahesh Museum of Art, 580 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10022 (Telephone 212-759-0606).


From your Guide: Stan Parchin, Senior Correspondent for Museums and Special Exhibitions, is a specialist in ancient, late-medieval and Renaissance art and history, and a regular contributor to About Art History. You may read all of his Special Exhibition and Catalogue Reviews here

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