Paris, France — Mummies, pyramids, the sphinx. Since Antiquity the art and civilization of Ancient Egypt has fascinated the world. It is a magical world with its pantheon of anthropomorphic gods and goddesses, its fabulous tombs and jewels and intriguing lifestyle. It is a world that was deciphered only 200 years ago when the French scholar, philologist, orientalist and adventurer in his own right Jean-François Champollion — using the Rosetta Stone figured out how to read Egyptian hieroglyphics — pictograms that were once defined as divine writing and mysterious— shedding light onto this ancient civilization that continued to radiate around the world. Champollion was 31-years-old when he made what is regarded as one of the most important discoveries of humanity in the 19th century. The doors of the Louvre opened up where he became the head curator of Egyptian antiquities and then onto the venerable house of high learning, the Collège de France, which would entrust him with the very first chair of Egyptology in the world.
The Collège de France today still attracts leading Egyptologists from France and abroad and possesses one of the finest libraries devoted to Egyptology in the world. Exhibitions are being devoted to Champollion for the bicentenary of the discovery but it is only fitting and poignant that the place where he disseminated his knowledge, the Collège de France, is hosting one of them.The visitor is greeted in the imposing courtyard of the school by a statue of Champollion sculpted by the French artist Auguste Bartholdi of Statue of Liberty fame.
The show plunges the visitor into the world of hieroglyphics through tablets, papyruses and statues in the first part of the exhibition with some of the pieces being displayed to the public for the first time. While the second part of the show demonstrates how this civilization that fascinated the world remained shrouded in mystery, secrecy and for all practical purposes mute for 1500 years, inaccessible to scholars and the public at large from the end of Antiquity through to the Renaissance and beyond lending the discovery of Champollion even greater importance, a discovery explored in the third part of the show devoted to his works and manuscripts. A final section looks at the genesis of the sculpture by Auguste Bartholdi. « Champollion’s decyphering allowed for the entry into one of the greatest civilizations of humanity and to understand its wealth which had previously remained obscure, » explained Thomas Römer, the current administrator of the Collège de France
Champollion was greatly aided in his deciphering by a black basalt tablet discovered in 1799 near Alexandria by a French officer serving in Napoleon Bonaparte’s army. Scientists on board for the expedition immediately realized it was the same text written in three languages: Hieroglyphics, Ancient Greek and Demotic, an ancient Egyptian script. Upon further study and comparative examinations of other hieroglyphic texts, Champollion would go on to determine that the writings weren’t merely pictograms but had a phonetic value as well. « I’ve got it, » Champollion cried out, according to his first biographer, to his older brother, Jacques-Joseph, upon bursting into his office, hieroglyphs in hand, on September 14th, 1822, before promptly fainting on the spot.
But it wasn’t until 1828 that he fulfilled a dream of a lifetime, the voyage to Egypt. He read, translated and copied texts throughout his journey from Alexandria to Assouan, journeying through Nubia and spending two weeks at Abu Simbel and it massive temples. His entire life had been devoted to Egypt and its hieroglyphics. His entire short life, for he died in Paris in 1832 at the age of 41 and is regarded to this day as the father of Egyptology. His Grammar and Dictionary of Ancient Egyptian was published posthumously. « By celebrating the bicentennial of the deciphering of the hieroglyphics, we are celebrating a discovery of which we barely understand the impact, » commented Jean-Luc Fournet, one of the curators of the exhibition, a papyrus expert and a professor at the Collège de France.
The exhibition has been organized by the Collège de France with the participation of the French National Library, the Bartholdi museum in Colmar and the Champollion museum in Vif and numerous private collections. It was produced with the exceptional patronage of the Bred bank. The Collège de France, formerly known as the Royal College, was founded by François I in 1530. Located in Paris near the Sorbonne and the Cluny museum, it is a higher education and research establishment which has the particularity of dispensing all of its courses, which are non-degree granting, free of charge and open to all without any conditions or registration. And it teaches just about everything.
©Trish Valicenti for The Gourmet Gazette
Champollion exhibition until October 25th (admission is free)
Mondays-Fridays from 10am until 6pm
Free conferences are held at 6pm on Tuesdays throughout the duration of the exhibition.
11 Pl. Marcelin Berthelot
75005 Paris, France
+33 (0)1 44 27 12 11
Categories: Gourmet Fair
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