“Champollion, the way of hieroglyphs” opens Wednesday, 200 years after the decipherment of hieroglyphs by Jean-François Champollion, a real “tipping point of the human sciences” according to Hélène Bouillon, co-curator of the exhibition.
By placing this genius of languages in its historical context, the itinerary, rich in more than 350 works, offers a double dive: in Egyptian antiquity and in the time of Champollion, “child of the Enlightenment” born in 1790, in full French Revolution, in a literate but modest family.
“It is an exhibition of history, history of museums, history of science and also of a biographical type”, opening on “this considerable part of the history of humanity” concealed by hieroglyphics, summarizes the director of the Louvre-Lens, Marie Lavandier.
“Ancient Egypt is one of the crucibles of the imagination of humanity”, which continues to make people dream by “the beauty, the richness of the myths and also the extraordinary state of conservation of the objects”, enthuses she, happy that the Louvre-Lens is hosting this “flagship exhibition” of the bicentenary.
– The Rosetta stone in copies –
Among the centerpieces of the exhibition – of which the director of Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre, Vincent Rondot, is general curator – is the famous “squatting scribe”, who has been scrutinizing the world with his lively gaze since 2,500 BC.
But also a sarcophagus lid from the 4th century BC covered with a long text in hieroglyphics, or a papyrus never exhibited before, where a prayer to the god Amon-Rê coexists, remonstrations to a dissipated scribe and a leather delivery note to a cobbler.
On the other hand, the Rosetta stone, discovered during Bonaparte’s expedition to Egypt but then taken away by the English, remained in London, at the British Museum, which will also devote from October 13 an exhibition to the decipherment of hieroglyphs, an object at the time of a sprint between scientists.
An absence with which Champollion himself had to come to terms, working from copies of the famous stone with three scripts (hieroglyphs, demotic and Greek). Such period copies are also presented at the Louvre-Lens.
– Stereotypes –
At the heart of the exhibition, the clarification of the approach which allowed the scholar, after having immersed himself in the study of Coptic, the last descendant of the language of the ancient Egyptians, to decipher a writing system abandoned around the 4th century. century AD.
Champollion understood that ideograms and phonograms cohabited there and was “the first to propose a phonetic equivalence that was fair”, summarizes Hélène Bouillon.
Her discoveries “gave back their voice to the Egyptians”, of whom “we had a distorted vision by Greek and Roman sources”, she insists.
The Greek historian Herodotus had thus spread the idea that the Egyptians preferred death to life but “the texts tell us that they hated death, that they were afraid of it”, she points out.
Manuscripts, letters and also clothes, such as an Egyptian coat worn by Champollion during his late expedition along the Nile, in 1828-1830, show the Egyptologist at work.
A brilliant linguist, who died prematurely in 1832, Champollion was also a popularizer anxious to make his work accessible to as many people as possible.
At the Louvre, where King Charles X entrusted him with the mission of designing an Egyptian museum, “for the first time, he is creating thematic rooms on religion, daily life…”, explains Ms. Bouillon.
In this same logic of openness, the museum, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, offers many activities around the exhibition, including an “Egyptobus” which will crisscross the department of Pas-de-Calais.
“Champollion, the way of hieroglyphs”, until January 16.