Émile Prisse d’Avesnes (d’Avennes) (1807-1879) was an important mid-19th century French Egyptologist and something of a polymath. He was a soldier, engineer, writer, illustrator and talented linguist.
From 1827 to 1844 d’Avesnes resided in Egypt, teaching cartography and working as an engineer for a time, but eventually he devoted himself to documenting and studying the archaeological treasures from ancient Egypt. He became proficient in hieroglyphs, on the back of Champollion’s translations of the Rosetta Stone, and learned to speak at least half a dozen languages fluently during his expeditions around Egypt and further afield in the Arab world.
Ransacking of the artefacts was rife in those days of course and d’Avesnes helped excavate and transfer a large shipment of portrait reliefs from the Valley of the Kings to France, ostensibly to prevent their theft and use as local building material. The brazen act would earn d’Avesnes the Legion of Honour award when he returned to his homeland.
He published a number of Egypt-centric works in the decade following his return to France and eventually set about obtaining support for a further expedition which was undertaken from 1858 to 1860. On this occasion he was accompanied by a photographer (the photographs are now located in the French National Library).
“When he returned to Paris in I860; Prisse brought 300 folio drawings of paintings of various epochs, each up to seven or eight meters (23 to-26 feet) long; 400 meters (1300 feet) of paper impressions of bas-reliefs; 150 photographs of architectural and ornamental details, plans,sections and elevations; and 150 stereoscopic photographs, together with his enormous collection of drawing and notes. He also brought back, and later donated to the Louvre, the skulls of 29 mummies which he had identified by era, position and individual name.” [source]
The most important of d’Avesnes’ publications – the subject of this post – was released in installments over ten years and eventually compiled into a three volume work (one text and two illustrated atlases) in 1878 entitled: ‘Histoire de l’Art Égyptien: d’après les Monuments; Depuis les Temps les Plus Reculés Jusqu’à la Domination Romaine’ (~The history of Egyptian art from monuments from the earliest times up to Roman occupation).
Via: The third volume of ‘Histoire de l’Art Égyptien’, Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg.
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