Dominique Vivant Denon
Dominique Vivant Denon, baron in the reigns of Louis XV and Louis
XVI, survived the “Terror” and became a “citizen” trusted by napoleon,
owes his participation to the Napoleonic expedition in Egypt, not only
to Napoleon, who thought him too old, but to Josephine of Beauharnais,
who convinced Napoleon to use him.
Josephine considered him a man of
great culture: painter, engraver, a cultured who spoke English, Italian,
Russian and who had a great international experience.
Dominique Vivant Denon was born in 1747.
He grew up among the comforts
of an enlightened family, who gave him a humanistic culture, so as soon
as he was twenty, he was introduced to Louis’s XV court and became a
confident of the monarch, who sent him to Petersburg as the secretary of
the embassy. At the king’s death, his successor Louis XVI sent him to
Naples. It was his fortune: when the revolution erupted he hadn’t yet
returned to Paris, so he avoided the terrible purge with which the
republicans got rid of the aristocratic.
When he returned, Bonaparte was
already at the power, he was able to get through to Josephine who,
fascinated by his polished way of speaking and by his culture, welcomed
him in her parlour and introduced him to Napoleon.
So with Josephine’s
help, Denon, convinced Napoleon, to bring him along in the expedition in
In Egypt, Vivant followed the troops, draw everything, he guided a
group of cartographers and painters that helped him in his work, he
documented every ruin, every temple, he gathered every kind of material.
He catalogued every information to be able to report in Cairo everything
that Bonaparte should know.
Denon was able this way, to convince him of
the greatness of the Egyptian monuments.
The General appointed two
“savant” committees that in only two years prepared the “Description of
Thanks to Denon and his drawings the love for Egyptian art and
for the mystery of this population began.
Somebody, later, will
criticize his work, for not being precise.
Actually, Denon’s work is
remarkable, not only for the precision of the details, but also for the
atmosphere that it creates. When he returned to Paris, he started to
organize all the material he had gathered and Napoleon realized the
importance of Ancient Egypt. Denon also brought to Paris sculptures,
sarcophaguses and funeral objects which clearly showed the greatness of
Egyptian art and of the civilization of the ancient state.
published a book about his journeys to Egypt and Nubia.
Its success was
great and so this way the first wave of “Egyptomany” was born, and had
among his first followers,
Napoleon was fascinated by the
results of Denon’s work, and nominated him general director in the
museums and he immediately organized Napoleon’s Museum, a collection of
many art works that came from every place and that today is called