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Sculpted Glyphs: Egypt and the Musée Charles X

by Elizabeth Buhe

with David Eisenberg, Nicholas Fischer, and Daniel Suo

Introduction     |     3D Model     |     Sculpted Glyphs     |     Primary Sources     |     Project Narrative

As curator of the Egyptian section of the Musée Charles X from 1827 to 1832, Jean-François Champollion (1790–1832) was expected to organize a display of thousands of Egyptian objects newly acquired by the Louvre. His challenge was to conceptualize a manner in which these artifacts could be understood, since their purchase brought Egypt on a grand scale to France for the first time. Champollion's presentation of these objects was thematic by gallery—a salle civile, a salle des dieux, and two salles funéraires—with more specific chronological and thematic groupings within each cabinet. By presenting ancient Egyptian civilization in this way, Champollion enabled an interpretation of Egyptian culture that obviated the need for understanding Egyptian art through aesthetic models developed for Greco-Roman antiquities in favor of viewing Egyptian objects in their own right.

What is remarkable about the Musée Charles X is that archival inventories provide precise information about the placement of Egyptian artifacts inside the museum by room and by cabinet—a wealth of information not often extant within the museological record. Digital humanities tools have provided a means by which to draw insight from this data in a more intuitive and visual way. Here, we have built a three-dimensional, high-resolution, and fully-navigable model of the museum displaying a representative sample of the objects placed within it by Champollion.

This study consists of several components that seek to address Champollion’s museum. In addition to the three-dimensional model, a scholarly essay provides context for Champollion’s view of Egyptian art, and offers some perspective on his organizational logic in the Musée Charles X. The digital format of this journal has enabled the publication of transcriptions of archival inventories, the primary sources from which data for the virtual exhibition was culled, alongside links to the main textual sources written by Champollion and cited in the article. Finally, a project narrative addresses the challenges associated with the conception and collaborative production of this digital humanities work.