Egyptian antiquities in the Louvre

Jean-François Champollion (1790–1832) was the French scholar who founded the study of Egyptology by being the first to decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. He published his translation and analysis of the Rosetta Stone hieroglyphs in 1822 and 1824. Shortly thereafter he took on the task of establishing a new department of Egyptian antiquities in four rooms of the Louvre.

This department now fills thirty large rooms at the east end of the Louvre, in what is now called the Sully Wing. The seventeen rooms on the ground floor, plus two in the basement for particularly heavy exhibits, are organized into a “thematic circuit”, using authentic relics and artworks to illustrate and explain the topics of agriculture, hunting, fishing, animal husbandry, writing, arts and crafts, domestic life, temples, funeral rites and gods in ancient Egypt. Upstairs on the first floor there is a “chronological circuit” showing outstanding examples of Egyptian art from the earliest to the latest periods of ancient Egypt.

The Sphinx, in my first photo, is in the basement in room 1, at the beginning of the thematic circuit. From here a staircase (or an elevator) leads to the many thematic exhibits on the ground floor. You can easily spend a full day (as my wife and I did in January 2012) going through the thirty exhibition rooms with the help of the audio guide and the many text panels.

I was a bit disappointed with the audio guide at first, because it didn’t have much to say about the first few rooms. But soon more and more audio guide numbers started turning up on the displays, and finally I had to pick and choose because there wasn’t enough time in just one day to hear them all in full.

After several hours, somewhere up on the first floor, my audio guide suddenly stopped talking in the middle of a sentence. To trade it in for a new one I had to retrace my steps (there weren’t any shortcuts) to get back to the entrance to the Sully Wing, and in doing this I came to realize once again that the Louvre is a huge place, even if you are spending the day only in one department at one end of the museum. (They were very nice about giving me a new audio guide, of course.)

Rowing on the Nile / Poling in shallow water

These models, in room 3, show people rowing on the Nile or poling through shallow water. The models were found in graves, perhaps intended to provide transportation in the afterlife for the person who had died.

A girl and a duck

This lovely swimming girl is holding a covered spoon in the shape of a duck. The duck’s wings are the cover of the spoon. Lots of these have been found, mostly from the New Empire (1400-1200 BC), but none of them have any trace of any contents so it is not clear what they were used for. One theory is that these might have been women’s make-up boxes. This particular one is on display in room 9, display case 3.

(By the way, there is a similar covered spoon upstairs in room 24, also with a swimming girl and a duck, but the upstairs girl is not nearly as lovely as this one and neither is the duck.)

Girl carrying a vase

 

 

 

Above the swimming girl holding the duck, in room 9, display case 3, there is a figurine labeled “Spoon in the form of a young girl carrying a vase”.

The poor girl is tiny compared to the huge vase she has to carry, and in her right hand she is also holding a bag. She seems to be standing on a barrel of some sort.

To her right and left are other fancy spoons or small bowls, some in the shape of ducks.

The god Horus

This statue of the god Horus, in the shape of a man with the head of a falcon, is on display in room 7 and is part of the thematic circuit about religious and funerary beliefs. Originally Horus seems to have been holding a vase in his hands, with ritual water to purify the king in ceremonies.

Six sphinxes

Room 11 contains a row of six of the sphinxes which were set up along the Allee leading to the temple Sérapéum de Saqqara in Egypt in the 4th or 3rd century BC. These were found and dug out of the sand by workers under the direction of the French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette in 1851.

Later, in 1869, Mariette was asked to suggest a plot for an opera about ancient Egypt, and his idea was accepted as the basis for the opera Aida by Giuseppe Verdi.

Exhibit on ancient Egyptian temples

Room 12 on the ground floor shows the remains of temples from various sites and all epochs of ancient Egyptian history, to give an idea of the structure and function of a temple and the ceremonies that took place there.

Further on, in rooms 18 and 19, there is an alphabetical guide to the ancient Egyptian gods, including their appearance, their attributes, their roles, all illustrated with authentic figurines made of metal, ceramics or stone.

There is also an exhibit of mummified animals. The audio guide said there were various reasons for having animals mummified and placed in the tombs. First, they were the beloved pets of the person who had passed away. Second, they were intended as emergency rations, to be eaten by the dead person in case there was a famine in the afterlife. Third, the animals might be needed in the afterlife as sacrifices to the gods. Or the animals themselves might be worshiped as gods. In some eras, numerous animals seem to have been raised for the express purpose of being mummified.

Location and aerial view of the Louvre on monumentum.fr.

My photos in this post are from 2012. I revised the text in 2021.

Next: Ramses III and the Seated Scribe in the Louvre.
See more posts on the Louvre in Paris.

22 thoughts on “Egyptian antiquities in the Louvre”

  1. Thanks for providing the quality photography, details for locations of the pieces, and insightful commentary. As I browsed and read, I pleasantly felt like I was tuned to your audio guide … and it worked from end to end of this post. 🙂

  2. Aïda was the first opera I ever got to perform and in a very abridged version. I was in high school in Ohio and the Metropolitan Opera from NYC was touring. When they landed in our town, about five of us from our high school orchestra were chosen to sit in with them and play. It was an incredible thrill and they were very nice to us. It was like a free lesson with singers attached. At least 3 of us ended up majoring in music.

    Honestly though, we haven’t spent much time in the Egyptian collection. Too many other things. The Louvre is so large. We usually choose a particular collection for each visit, go see that and then find a pleasant restaurant. My only must-see is the sculpture hall so I can see Houdon’s George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. I just love them.

    1. How great that you got to play Aida with the Met orchestra when you were in high school!
      I wasn’t aware of those Houdon sculptures. Will look for them next time.

      1. Don, I first saw a copy of the Houdon sculpture of Washington at the Mt. Rushmore museum. When we got to Paris, I zipped to the sculpture room to see the real thing. It’s the only depiction of Washington that really lets you know why he was such a charismatic leader. The odd thing in the Louvre is that they have set the sculptures of Washington and Franklin so they are beside each other but facing away. They look as though they had just had an argument. I really wish they would reverse the order so they would be looking at each other in a friendly manner. Perhaps I’m the only one who has noticed this. I can’t imagine the curator would do this deliberately.

        1. The only statue of George Washington that I can recall seeing in Paris is the one in place d’Iéna, in front of the Guimet Museum. Washington is on horseback and waving a sword. The sculptor was Daniel Chester French, who (as I just learned 20 seconds ago) was the one who later sculpted Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial.

          1. We were out wandering one day and found that sculpture. We also found one of Jefferson on the Left Bank of the Seine. It’s amazing what you find walking around Paris. Great fun . . .

  3. One of the things I was determined to see when I visited the British Museum was the Rosetta Stone. I attempted to explain to Bob the significance of the Rosetta Stone but I don’t think I did a good job of it – I had assumed that he would know. But he was an engineer, so maybe that’s why. The museum was so crowded that I didn’t get a very good look at it.

      1. If you are ever in Figeac, France, on the bicentenary of the birth of Jean-François Champollion, Joseph Kosuth placed a huge black granite slab at the foot of Champollion’s birthplace that is an excellent reproduction of the Rosette Stone inscription. It is in Place des Écritures in central Figeac and is free. There is also a Musée des Écritures in Figeac.

        Jean-François Champollion was a French scholar, philologist and orientalist, known primarily as the decipherer of Egyptian hieroglyphs and a founding figure in the field of Egyptology, a proud son of Figeac. I love France . . .

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