The Napoleonic Egyptian Scientific Expdition and the Ninetenth-Century Survey Museum
As part of his military invasion of Egypt in 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte and the French government commissioned a group of intellectuals to accompany the French army to Egypt. The result of the French scholars’ efforts in Egypt was the first large-scale systematic study of Egypt. While the military campaign was a failure, the associated cultural appropriation of Egypt had a lasting effect on European culture.
This thesis investigates the impact of the Napoleonic Egyptian Scientific Expedition on the development of the museum in the nineteenth century. After examining the chief results of the expedition --Dominique Vivant Denon’s personal publication, Voyage dans la haute et la baisse Egypte (1802); the official endorsed encyclopedic corpus, the Description de I’Egypte (1810-1828); as well as the objects that were obtained by the British as per the Treaty of Alexandria (1801) and installed in the British Museum-- this thesis proposes that the enthusiasm for Egypt created by Napoleon’s campaign decisively influenced the development of the survey museum, both in Europe and the United States. While the British Museum was the first archaeological museum to boast a substantial Egyptian collection, the Louvre in Paris became the first Western art museum to form an Egyptian department, thus inserting Egyptian art into the Western art canon. By displaying Egyptian art in an art museum that surveyed the development of European art from its origins to the present, the Louvre communicated to the European public not only that Egyptian art was at the root of Greek and Roman art, but also that it had aesthetic value worthy of appreciation. This thesis concludes that it is likely that without the Napoleonic Egyptian Scientific Expedition, Egyptian art might not have become a part of the Western art canon, or a standard element in the Western art survey museum.
Master of Arts in Museum Professions, Seton Hall University, May (2009)