Description de l'Egypte ou Recueil des observations et des recherches qui ont été faites en Egypte pendant l'expédition de l'Egypte. Paris: C.L.F. Panckoucke, 1820-1830.

The Baron de Nervo's copy: a rare complete set of the second edition, handsomely bound with custom display cabinet. This work represents the first comprehensive description of ancient and modern Egypt, and an extraordinary result from Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt of 1798-1801.

38 volumes, comprising 24 text volumes bound in 26 (vol. 18 in three parts), octavo (216 x 130 mm); 11 plate volumes, folio (703 x 532 mm); and one elephant folio atlas volume of large-format plates (1100 x 690 mm). Engraved frontispiece with contemporary coloring, 901 engraved plates (of 902, lacks plate number 29 to Antiquités vol. 3), engraved title and 2 explanatory plates to Atlas Géographique, engraved dedication leaf to Louis XVIII, text volumes with 47 engraved plates and maps and 34 tables. Expedition blindstamps in the corner of most engravings. (Three plates in the grand monde atlas with foxing, scattered closed tears which are nearly all to folds of folding plates). Uniform contemporary red half morocco, spines stamped in gilt and black (some light wear and tear to spine ends, other mild rubbing). Custom wooden cabinet with sliding shelves and lectern (a few small chips to drawers). Provenance: Le Baron de Nervo, likely Olympe-Christophe, first baron of Nervo, 1765-1835, French politician, but this bookplate also used by his son and grandson (armorial bookplates).

The plate volumes of this second edition contain the same plates as the first, but remain uncolored. The individual parts are:
Antiquités: Text: 10 volumes. Plates: Five volumes. Half-title in vol. 1. Hand-colored engraved frontispiece and 418 (of 419, lacking plate 29 to plate vol. 3). This edition does not contain plates a-f, not listed in the 'table de planches' in the last text volume for this part. The large map was outside the plate count in the first edition but here is plate 1 in volume 1. This part describes not only the ruins, with which Europeans where already familiar, but also the objects excavated there, including the Rosetta Stone. This collection of portable objects was to have been removed to France but at embarkation William Hamilton (agent to Lord Elgin) and E.D. Clarke confiscated them; the majority survive today at the British Museum. The quality of the plates was much enhanced by the use of an engraving machine invented by Conté, which is itself illustrated in the succeeding part.

Etat Moderne: Text: 10 volumes. (published as tomes 11-18; tome 18 in three parts). Plates: Two volumes. with 179 engraved plates on 171 sheets. This part describes the architecture of Egypt, particularly Cairo, subsequent to the Arab invasion in the 7th century. Other sections detail Arts et Métiers (31 plates), Costumes et Portraits (11), Vases, Meubles et Instruments (13), and Inscriptions Monnoies et Médailles (29 on 21 sheets).

Histoire Naturelle: Text: 6 volumes. Plates: Three volumes. (numbered 1, 2 and 2bis) with 244 engraved plates. The principal sections of this part comprise geology and physical geography by de Rozière, mammals by Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire, Jules-César Savigny and Audouin, flora by Rafeneau-Didile. The many artists who contributed drawings to this part include Barraband, Prêtre, Pierre Joseph Redouté, and Turpin.

Atlas géographique. Engraved title, engraved 'key' map, engraved characters, a general map on 3 sheets and a detailed map on 47 printed sheets. The origin of this survey was the inadequacy of d'Anville's map dating from 1765. The new survey conducted under Jacotin included not only Egypt but Sinai, Palestine and much of modern Lebanon, as an offshoot of the Syrian campaign. The maps where ready for publication by 1818, but, presumably for security reasons, they remained with the pot de Guerre until about 1830.

The elephant folio “grand monde” volume in the present set contains fine views and plates for the Antiquités and Etat Moderne plate volumes as well as the engraved dedication to Louis XIV and one folding plate, ““Plate A, Tableau Synoptique des Constellations,” from vol. 1 of the Antiquités Mémoires.

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Lot Essay

For a detailed discussion on this history and impact of this monumental work, please see preceding lot:

"Thirty years of collective effort went into the publication of this work, as well as untold suffering and privation in Egypt" (Blackmer). Napoleon later described his legendary Egyptian campaign in rosy terms as "the most beautiful time in my life," imagining himself "founding a religion, marching into Asia, riding an elephant, a turban on my head in my hand the new Koran I would have composed to suit my needs." Although it ultimately set Napoleon on the path to Emperor, it was not a military success. As J. Christopher Herold writes in the preface to his famous chronicle of the campaign, "the truth does not reflect very favorably on either Napoleon Bonaparte or the French soldiers and civilians who took part in his Egyptian campaign." But the campaign had other goals as well; when the French fleet led by L'Orient set sail for Alexandria, it carried not only soldiers but a research division, comprising civil engineers, cartographers, artists, mathematicians, chemists, zoologists, and more. Once in Egypt they formed the Institute of Egypt, divided into four areas: mathematics, physics, political economy, and the arts, which devoted itself to the study of every aspect of Egypt for the next three years. "Never before or since has a study of such scope and thoroughness been accomplished on the basis of field-work carried out in so short a space of time and under such inadequate and harrowing circumstances" (Herold).

"The Egyptologists of the 19th-century owed their knowledge of ancient Egypt to the efforts of the engineers who described the monuments of antiquity, and it was in the plates of the Description that these were revealed" (Blackmer). It was the largest printed work so far produced, fueling a new “scientific” Egyptomania for the modern world. It "exhibits the sites of Egypt with detail augmented by each passing page, thus creating a much different viewing experience [than other contemporary view books] premised on an empirical, scientific unfolding. Beginning with an aerial map of a particularly archaeological site, it then moves to a general view of the monuments in situ, followed by architectural elevation and plans, and intricate displays of any individual artifacts and inscriptions discovered" (Oliver).

Yet for all that this publication set the stage for European work on Egypt for the next two centuries, "there has been relatively little research devoted to it, particularly involving a critical analysis of its engravings" (Oliver). Its monumentality and historical significance as a publication has overshadowed a detailed study of its contents as it actually relates to Egypt. It is in many ways a younger sibling of Diderot's great Encyclopédie, isolating areas of knowledge for practical use and consumption. It presents Egypt not as it was, but as an object for French colonial consumption, often dramatizing the sense of decay and ruin in order to emphasize the gulf between the Antiquités and L'État moderne. Edward Said writes that it was part of the effort to "restore a region from its present barbarism to its former classical greatness; to instruct (for its own benefit) the Orient in the ways of the modern West; to subordinate or underplay military power in order to aggrandize the project of glorious knowledge acquired in the process of political domination of the Orient."

And it worked, too. While the Napoleonic Egyptian campaign was an utter failure, with less than half the original troops returning home alive and the definitive loss of French influence in the region, this publication represents the French victory in Egypt. A monumentally influential work which "gave" Egypt to the French in a more lasting way than military campaigns ever could, it is one of the most enduring remains of Napoleon's failed but legendary exploits in the arena of empire.

Blackmer 476; BAL RIBA 846; Brunet II, 616-617; Nissen BBI 2234; Nissen ZBI 4608. See also J. Christopher Herold, Bonaparte in Egypt (1963) and Liza Oliver, "Blindness Materialized: Disease, Decay, and Restoration in the Napoleon Description de l'Egypte (1809-1828)" in Seeing Across Cultures in the Early Modern World (2012).
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