Considered among the greatest achievements of French publishing, this 34-volume First Edition of the Description de l'Égypte represents the culmination of one of the most ambitious and important academic studies in modern history. Containing 844 highly detailed engravings, this extraordinary collection originated with Napoléon's Egyptian campaign.
In addition to his military aims, Napoléon used the campaign in a way that was unprecedented - to mount the first comprehensive scientific expedition with the intention of studying both ancient and modern Egypt. For this purpose, he brought to Egypt 150 scholars to systematically study the region and its inhabitants, and the final result of their exhaustive research was the Description de l'Égypte. These highly detailed volumes took over 20 years to complete, and remain among the most fascinating and influential relics of scientific study.
Complete sets such as this are a highly sought after rarity, with another example bringing over $1.5 million at auction in 2011. The publication is accompanied by a remarkable collection of archival material relating to its first owner, Guy de Lavau, the prefect of the Paris police (1821-1828) who was gifted these volumes by King Charles X in 1826. A stunning custom-built mahogany bookcase houses the set; the design is based on the original, with gilt mounts of Egyptian motifs that mimic those of the flat bindings. Originally envisaged as a propaganda tool to glorify the new French Empire, today this extraordinary volume symbolizes the meeting of two ages, ancient and modern, and two cultures, East and West, in the late 18th century.
Guy de Lavau (1787-1874), Prefect of the Police of Paris (1821-1828), Counsellor of the State (1828), Officer of the Legion of Honour (May 1825)
Library of the Château de Meslay (in the Loir-et-Cher region)