Synopses & Reviews
Prisse d'Avennes's Dazzling Compendia of Islamic Art and Architecture
Emile Prisse d'Avennes
(1807–1879), a French Orientalist, author and artist, was one of the greatest pre-20th century Egyptologists. An ardent admirer of the superb skills of Egyptian and Oriental artisans, he was enamored of Arabic art. As a youth he dreamed of exploring the Orient, and at 19 began travelling to Greece, India, and Palestine. Over the next 40 years he explored Syria, Arabia, Persia, and resided in Egypt and Algeria. Converting to Islam, he travelled Egypt disguised as an Arab, using the name Edris Effendi. A student of ancient Egyptian and Islamic cultures, he later wrote: "We shall discuss all the arts, all the industries cultivated by Orientals with so much taste, brilliance, and fantasy. We will present splendid reproductions of the monuments, objects of art and luxury, which provide evidence of an advanced civilization, the influence of which has been felt even in Europe."
In 1848/1851 Prisse d'Avennes published his Oriental Album
in London (Oriental Album. Characters, Costumes, and Modes of Life, the Valley of the Nile)
. This brilliant collection of 32 chromolithographs illustrating the people and costumes of the Nile Valley was accompanied by a commentary by renowned Orientalist and Egyptologist James Augustus St. John. After again travelling to North Africa, Prisse d'Avennes returned to France in 1860, bearing the fruits of his journeys—hundreds of folio drawings, photographs, sketches, plans and 400 meters of bas-reliefs. Fascinated by the symmetry, complexity, and opulence of Egyptian and Arabic art, he drew from this vast collection to create compilations of the finest examples of art and architecture, which also took into account historical, social, and religious contexts. In 1877, he published his outstanding survey on Islamic art and architecture, Arab Art
( L'Art arabe d'après les monuments du Kaire
in Paris. The three atlas volumes contain 200 plates—137 of them magnificent chromolithographs—mainly by Prisse d'Avennes, and a quarto volume of text with numerous beautiful illustrations. L’Art arabe
is an indispensable compendium on the development of Arabic art, portraying its splendor and diversity,
and a work of supreme draftsmanship.
In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte launched an expedition of 35,000 soldiers to conquer Egypt. The campaign was a military and political disaster but nonetheless it had a profound and lasting impact, by revealing the splendour of a mysterious and forgotten civilization. For Napoleon's ships also carried some 500 scholars, scientists and artists whose task it was to study the country and its customs. Traversing a country at war under the stifling heat of southern Egypt, they embarked on the first major study of a land then all but unknown to Europeans. They discovered the Valley of the Kings outside Thebes. They found the Rosetta stone which when deciphered enabled scholars to read hieroglyphics. And their combined efforts culminated in what is surely one of the most ambitiously comprehensive work ever published: the Description de I'Egypte in 10 volumes with 837 copperplate engravings and more than 3,000 drawings. It was as though they were cataloguing the world's richest museum covering three major themes with their work: ""Antiqutes,"" ""Etat Moderne"" and ""Histoire Naturelle,"" the first two of which are reproduced fully in this special edition.
About the Author
About the Author -
Jonathan M. Bloom and Sheila S. Blair are a husband-and-wife team of teachers and writers on virtually all aspects of Islamic art and architecture. They share both the Norma Jean Calderwood University Professorship of Islamic and Asian Art at Boston College and the Hamad bin Khalifa Endowed Chair of Islamic Art at Virginia Commonwealth University. Together and singly they have written or edited a score of books and hundreds of articles on subjects ranging from the Dome of the Rock to modern calligraphy. Most recently they edited Rivers of Paradise: Water in Islamic Art and Culture.'