of Napoleon Bonaparte, and founder of the Louvre in Paris. This truly universal man may well be considered the first Egyptologist for the detailed and profusely illustrated observations that he published following his participation in the Napoleonic expedition to Egypt (1798–1801). In his fifties and distinguished as a diplomat, art connoisseur, and artist, Denon was one of the more senior and brilliant members of the commission of science and arts attached to the general staff of Napoleon's army of Egypt.
Denon proved to be an energetic explorer and tireless recorder, often working under the most difficult and dangerous conditions as he followed General Desaix's army through Egypt, sketching monuments and recording his impressions in writing. He discovered the zodiac on a ceiling in the temple of Dendera, which the French were the first Europeans to view. Because some of the temples that Denon documented with precision no longer survive, the Description d'Égypte and his additional works preserve the only records.
When Bonaparte abandoned his troops in Egypt in August of 1799, he took Denon back to Paris with him. From his large collection of drawings, Denon published his Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Égypte (1802), in two volumes with 141 plates, which appeared twenty years before the Commission of Science and Arts' Description, and thus gave to the West the first professional portrayal of the wonders of Egypt. The book was enormously popular, and went through forty editions, was translated into English and German, and provided the inspiration for the Egyptian revival in architecture and the decorative arts that marked the early nineteenth century.
Denon was appointed director general of museums by Napoleon and went on to be the founder of what is now the Louvre. He played a major role in forming its collections when he accompanied Napoleon on subsequent campaigns in Europe giving advice on the choice of artistic spoils from vanquished cities.
- Dawson, Warren R., and Eric P. Uphill. Who Was Who in Egyptology. 2d rev. ed. London, 1972.
- Denon, Dominique Vivant. Voyage dans la basse et la haute Égypte (1802). Paris, 1990.
- Nowinski, Judith. Baron Dominique Vivant Denon, 1747–1825. Rutherford, N.J., 1970.
Barbara Switalski Lesko