Dominique-Vivant Denon was a lover of the Empress Josephine, a compulsive collector, the first director of the Louvre museum and Bonaparte's adviser on artistic matters. Indeed, Denon was known as 'Napoleon's eye'. But the man who impressed the emperor with his courteous manners and his talent for pornographic drawing was also the primary force behind revealing Egypt's civilisation to an astonished Europe.
Invited to accompany Bonaparte during the French Expedition to Egypt - a staging post in Napoleon's campaign to wrest India from the British - Denon was forcibly struck by Egypt's architecture. With often only a few minutes to record the scene before him, he would sketch under fire. On one occasion he worked for sixteen hours, while the windblown sand caused his eyelids to bleed. Upon his return to France, Denon published Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt. His insightful and deeply humane volume became an instant bestseller. Hitherto no one had suspected that Egypt's rich and mature civilisation existed. In this book Terence M. Russell unfolds Denon's colourful, extraordinary and contradictory character. While Denon was the first to present to Europe a true and honest image of ancient Egypt and the first European traveller to spend months exploring the desert and recording the monuments he found there, he was also a hard-headed collector. Throughout his travels he made plans for the wonders of Egypt to be crated up and shipped back to Paris.
The Discovery of Egypt is a story of heroic endurance and accomplishment set against a bloody military campaign. Illustrated with Vivant Denon's incomparable drawings and the works of others who accompanied Napoleon to the deserts of Egypt, it gives an insight into the mind of one of the first Egyptologists: an adventurer, an artist of consummate ability and a compulsive collector.