In 1798 over three hundred French naval ships set sail for Egypt under the command of General Napoléon Bonaparte. Obsessed with Alexander the Great, his instinct was that the glory of ancient Egypt could be harnessed to exalt French power, while diminishing arch rival Great Britain by cutting off its main route to India.
The invasion was a complete fiasco...but there was a silver lining. Under the auspices of The Commission of the Sciences and Arts of Egypt, and with help from the newly-established Institut d'Egypte in Cairo, an army of France’s finest artists and scholars made a thorough survey of every aspect of the country, including its vast wealth of antiquities.
Their findings were eventually published in the ‘Description de l'Egypte,’ a monumental 35-volume collection edited by C.L.F. Panckoucke in Paris. The collection’s 900 plates and rich descriptions revealed to the world the great civilization that had ruled along the Nile for millennia.
Description de l'Egypte not only gave birth to the field of Egyptology, but also sparked an unprecedented craze for all things Egyptian that reverberated through the decorative arts, architecture and fashion.
Reproduced with permission from the David Rumsey Map Collection, David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford Libraries. A portion of the proceeds is donated to the Center in gratitude for its exemplary public service.