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Elouafi to lecture on 'Napoleon's Discovery of Egypt' Feb. 19

February 16, 2009

Elaine Quick

Elaine Quick

The SUArt Galleries announces a lecture by history professor Amy Elouafi in conjunction with the gallery's new exhibition "Napoleon on the Nile: Soldiers, Artists, and the Rediscovery of Egypt." The lecture, "Napoleon's 'Discovery' of Egypt: Art & Science in the French Empire and the Civilizing Mission," will be held on Thursday, Feb. 19 at 5:30 p.m. in the Shaffer Art Building's Shemin Auditorium.

Elouafi, assistant professor of history, and women and gender studies in the Maxwell School, will discuss Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in the context of French colonialism, looking primarily at academic and artistic representations of the East that demonstrate a set of stereotypes collectively referred to as Orientalism. Though aware of Egypt's Pharaonic past-and intrigued by it-these savants were scarcely interested in the contemporary history, culture and politics of Egypt. Instead of a project of translation, Europeans sought to make the Orient intelligible to a European audience through cataloging, measuring, quantifying- and illustrating-what in their eyes constituted knowledge.

The exhibition, "Napoleon on the Nile," illuminates how French military ambitions and the quest for scientific knowledge (and political control) came to shape the West's enduring image of Egypt, inspiring generations of painters, photographers, architects and decorative artists. While Napoleon's military exploits ended poorly, he achieved what was to be perhaps his greatest legacy: the publication of the multi-volume "Description de l'Egypte," widely recognized as the single most important European scholarly study of ancient and modern Egypt, and the focus of this exhibition.

The astonishing range and precision of the "Description" images was captured by Napoleon's savants, a small army of scholars whose project was to systematically explore, describe and document every aspect of the country-its ancient and modern buildings and monuments, topography, commerce, customs and flora and fauna. Supported by Napoleon and protected by his army, this select group of engineers, scientists, mathematicians, naturalists and artists served the political mission of the expedition by providing comprehensive information and skills an occupying force needed to govern and rebuild effectively. At the same time, they advanced Napoleon's ideological goals by rediscovering the wonders of Pharaonic Egyptian civilization, with which Napoleon-in his dual roles of liberator/conqueror-was happy to be associated.

The exhibition will be on display at SUArt Galleries' main campus galleries, located in the Shaffer Art building, through March 29. It was originally organized by Dahesh Museum of Art's Associate Curator Lisa Small and is accompanied by a richly illustrated exhibition catalog.

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