Auguste Mariette and the great sphinx of Giza

Auguste Mariette and the great sphinx of Giza

  • Photograph of the sphinx with flag.

    ANONYMOUS

  • The great sphinx seen from the front with excavations in front.

    MARIETTE Auguste-Edouard (1821 - 1881)

  • Cup of the sphinx of Ghizeh.

    MARIETTE Auguste-Edouard (1821 - 1881)

To close

Title: Photograph of the sphinx with flag.

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Excavations by Auguste Mariette, Maspero Fund.

Storage location: Institute Library website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Institut de France) - Gérard Blot website

Picture reference: 03-014387 / Ms40623; Fol50

Photograph of the sphinx with flag.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Institut de France) - Gérard Blot

To close

Title: The great sphinx seen from the front with excavations in front.

Author : MARIETTE Auguste-Edouard (1821 - 1881)

Creation date : 1853

Date shown: 1853

Dimensions: Height 24 - Width 19

Technique and other indications: Watercolor. Papers by Auguste Mariette.

Storage location: Institute Library website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Institut de France) - Gérard Blot website

Picture reference: 04-000080 / Ms40623; Fol49

The great sphinx seen from the front with excavations in front.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Institut de France) - Gérard Blot

To close

Title: Cup of the sphinx of Ghizeh.

Author : MARIETTE Auguste-Edouard (1821 - 1881)

Creation date : 1853

Date shown: 1853

Dimensions: Height 14.5 - Width 32

Technique and other indications: Pencil. Papers by Auguste Mariette.

Storage location: Institute Library website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Institut de France) - Gérard Blot

Picture reference: 04-000078 / Ms40623; Fol48

Cup of the sphinx of Ghizeh.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Institut de France) - Gérard Blot

Publication date: January 2010

Historical context

Located in Lower Egypt, upstream of the Nile delta and west of Cairo, the Giza plateau is home to an archaeological site from the Old Kingdom with its great sphinx and its three pyramids, including that of Cheops, the last survivor of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World celebrated by the Greek authors of the IVe and IIIe centuries BC The first was performed by Thutmosis IV, pharaoh of the XVIIIe dynasty. J.-C., Ramses II undertakes to remove the sand. In 1816, the therianthrope statue (half-human, half-animal) attracted the attention of the Egyptologist Giovanni Battista Caviglia (1770-1845) who began to free the chest and thus discovered the stele of Thutmosis IV, the uraeus - the cobra's head which adorned the forehead of the Sphinx - and a fragment of his beard, two archaeological objects that are now shared between the Cairo Museum and the British Museum. Subsequently, excavation campaigns were successively carried out by Karl Richard Lepsius (1810-1884), Auguste Mariette (1821-1881), Gaston Maspero (1846-1916), Émile Baraize (1874-1952) and the Egyptian Selim Hassan (1893-1961), who ended up completely freeing the body of the Sphinx of Giza.

Image Analysis

These three images are contemporary with the excavations carried out by Auguste Mariette during his first stay in Egypt from 1850 to 1854.

The photograph shows the Sphinx taken in three quarters and highlights its function as guardian of the necropolis of Giza: in the background stands the pyramid of Khafre, the top of which has retained part of its outer covering. Planted on the head of the statue, the tricolor flag testifies to the presence of the French mission on the site. Only the head and the chest of the Sphinx are released from the piles of sand which cover the monument.

The very beautiful watercolor painted by Auguste Mariette shows the progress of the excavations in 1853. The legs of the Sphinx are not released, but in the excavation dug at the base stands the monolithic stele of pink granite of Pharaoh Thutmose IV , discovered by Giovanni Caviglia in 1818. Carved in a peak of hard limestone, the head of the Sphinx is capped with the nemes. Originally, she was painted in bright colors, red for the flesh and yellow and blue for the royal hairstyle. His face is amputated from his nose. This mutilation is mentioned from the 13the century by historian Makrizi, who attributes it to a fanatic Muslim at the time of the Arab conquest. The figure seated on the base of the torso highlights the gigantism of the monument which rises to twenty meters in height.

The cup of the Sphinx made by Mariette also gives an idea of ​​the exceptional dimensions of the guardian of the necropolis. With its forelegs, which were still not clear at this time, the set is 73 meters long. The considerable deterioration of the building is evident in this drawing.

At a time when archaeologists' means of investigation and analysis are still rudimentary and most often limited to surveys, plans and drawings marred by imprecision, photography, in full swing, lends scientific support to the observations made on field.

Interpretation

In 1850, during his first mission to Egypt, Auguste Mariette set up his camp in the heart of the necropolis of Giza, at the foot of the great pyramid of Cheops. He did not immediately undertake excavations there but proceeded to clear the sand of a few civil tombs, the mastabas of Ptah-Baou-Nefer, Snedjemib, Khaef-Snefrou and Khaefrêankh. In 1853, at the request and at the expense of the Duke of Luynes, he began to clear the front legs and the perimeter of the Sphinx. This is to verify Pliny's assertions that the monument is not monolithic, but built, and is also the tomb of Pharaoh Armais. He continued the removal of sand in 1854 with French funds and completed it in 1858 with funding allocated by the viceroy of Egypt, Saïd Pasha. It was during the excavation of 1853 that Mariette discovered the reception temple of the funeral complex of Khafre and, in the first vestibule of this temple, the very beautiful diorite statue of this pharaoh, seated with a falcon surrounding his neck. of its wings, a masterpiece of Egyptian art from the Old Kingdom.

In 1885-1886, Gaston Maspero continued the work of clearing the Sphinx started by his illustrious predecessor. From 1925 to 1936, Émile Baraize continued this long-term work. But today, the ancient edifice is still threatened by natural erosion due to sand winds and suffers from the pollution generated by the nearby metropolis of Cairo. In 1986-1987, it suffered the repercussions of hazardous restorations denounced by Michel Wuttmann, member of the French Institute of Oriental Archeology in Cairo: “From the New Kingdom [1580-1050 BC. AD], parts of the pavement have been replaced. Then the Greeks and Romans intervened. But while stone was used in Antiquity - materials quite close to the original one - everything went wrong in the 20th centurye century. We began to use ordinary cements, much stronger, of course, but which cause the rock to burst. Meeting in 1992 under the auspices of Unesco, Egyptologists banned the use of cement in favor of natural mortar. Since 1997, the Sphinx has returned to its former glory, but this sick old man is still on borrowed time.

  • archeology
  • Egypt
  • Mariette (Augustus)
  • Maspero (Gaston)

Bibliography

Marc DESTI (dir.), Catalog of the exhibition Des dieux, des tombeaux, un savant: In Egypt in the footsteps of Mariette Pasha, Boulogne-sur-Mer, 10 May-30 August 2004, Paris, Somogy, 2004. Gilles LAMBERT, Auguste Mariette, Paris, Éditions Jean-Claude Lattès, 1997 Claudine LE TOURNEUR D'ISON, Mariette Pasha ou le Rêve egyptien, Paris, Plon, 1999 Auguste MARIETTE, Voyage dans la Haute-Egypt: included between Cairo and the first cataract, Paris, rééd.Errance, 1999. Jean VERCOUTTER, In search of forgotten Egypt, Paris, Gallimard, coll. "Gallimard Discoveries" n ° 1, 1998.

To cite this article

Alain GALOIN, "Auguste Mariette and the great sphinx of Giza"


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