Belzoni: View of the pyramids from across the Nile


Giovanni Belzoni.  “General View of the Pyramids.”  Plate 22 from Illustrative of the Researches and Operations of G. Belzoni in Egypt and Nubia.  London: John Murray, 1822.  10 1/4 x 18 1/4.  Etching by A. Aglio.  Full original hand color.  Very good condition.

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A fascinating engraving from a rare set of prints issued to accompany Giovanni Belzoni’s Narrative, a popular work that described his experiences and discoveries in Egypt and Nubia.  Belzoni, a nearly six foot, seven inch red-head, was a pantomime player and strongman, as well as a hydraulic engineer.  He traveled to Cairo in 1816 in order to interest Mohammed Ali in a hydraulic lifting device that he had invented.  This venture being unsuccessful, Belzoni turned to the British Consul, Henry Salt, for possible employment.  Salt, who was facing the problem of getting the head and shoulders of a colossal statue from Thebes to England, hired Belzoni for this job, and the latter completed the task quickly.  Belzoni then turned to archaeological explorations in the Thebes area, and thus began the events which were to lead to his great fame.

Giovanni Belzoni was the first to perform large scale excavations in the Valley of the Kings, and he discovered many tombs, including some major ones.  While he made many enemies, Belzoni’s enthusiasm and energy allowed him to achieve much.  The methods of modern archaeology had not yet evolved so Belzoni did some things that are fairly shocking–such as smashing through sealed doors with a battering ram.  Still, Belzoni approached his explorations with a rigorous attitude, mounting excavations on a massive scale and being highly systematic in his approach.  After leaving Egypt in 1819, Belzoni published his famous Narrative, a work that excited huge interest.  In 1822, the atlas of prints to accompany this work was issued, containing many lovely scenes and brilliant renderings of the tomb paintings that Belzoni discovered.  Such was the impact of Belzoni’s publicizing of his discoveries that this can be seen as the beginning of the popular fascination with Egypt.  The views are finely rendered and show us Egypt before too much was dug up and shipped off to Europe.  These prints are both aesthetically excellent and historically fascinating.