Belzoni and Sethi I: from Thebes to Piccadilly, from Paris to Russia …

Engraving depicting the exhibition on the tomb of Sethi I organized by Giovanni Battista Belzoni
at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly in London in 1821

the magnificence of the magic land Egypt has no limit: here is another fascinated sight of (one of) the Tombs called; KV17 which has been found by Giovanni Battista Belzoni in the valley of the King. Belzoni, sometimes known as The Great Belzoni, was a prolific Italian explorer and pioneer archaeologist of Egyptian antiquities. He was surely excited when he’d arrived into this Tomb but as nobody could read hydrography’s yet, he couldn’t know that that’s the Tomb of Sethi the great Pharaoh.

Tomb KV17, located in Egypt‘s Valley of the Kings and also known by the names “Belzoni’s tomb”, “the Tomb of Apis”, and “the Tomb of Psammis, son of Nechois”, is the tomb of PharaohSeti I of the Nineteenth Dynasty. It is one of the best decorated tombs in the valley, but now is almost always closed to the public due to damage. As per November 2017 holders of a 1200 EGP entry ticket or of a Luxor Pass can visit this tomb. It was first discovered by Giovanni Battista Belzoni[1] on 16 October 1817. When he first entered the tomb he found the wall paintings in excellent condition with the paint on the walls still looking fresh and some of the artists paints and brushes still on the floor.[2]

The tomb of king Sethi The First KV17
http://Egyptraveluxe Tours -Egypt day tours and Egypt Travel – blogger The tomb of king Sethi The First KV17

Let’s read this brilliant reportage by Marie Grillot and enjoy the fascination. with Grande Merci 🙏💖🙏💖 http://Marie Grillot

Datei:La tombe de Sethi 1er (KV.17) (Vallée des Rois, Thèbes ouest) -4.jpg  – Wikipedia

via translated from French. ( I did add some pictures to the article 😊💕)

“I can call the day of this discovery one of the most fortunate of my life”: such are the words of Giovanni Battista Belzoni remembering this October 18, 1817… He has just discovered, in the Valley of the Kings, a tomb of incredible beauty. The key to reading the hieroglyphs having not yet deciphered, he cannot know that this is the eternal home of the great Pharaoh Sethi I. With reference to the “carcass of a bull embalmed with asphalt” which is found there, it will be called “tomb of the Apis” or even sometimes “tomb Belzoni”. It will then be attributed to the father of Ramses II and referenced KV 17 (King Valley).

Belzoni recounts the joy felt on entering: “the first of all men currently living on the globe, in one of the most beautiful and vast monuments of ancient Egypt, in a monument which had been lost to the world, and which was so well preserved that it looked like we had just finished it a little before our arrival “.

Different plans of the tomb of Sethi I
discovered by Belzoni on October 18, 1817

As soon as he enters the tomb, he is captivated by what is offered to his eyes: “I judged, by the paintings on the ceiling and by the hieroglyphics in bas-relief that we could distinguish through the rubble that we were masters of the entrance to a magnificent tomb. “

The tomb sinks 137 m into the Theban mountain through 7 corridors and has 10 rooms! It is one of the most beautiful and “completely” decorated in the valley. It is also one of those where the quality of the paintings reaches the highest perfection. Belzoni notes: “As we went on, these paintings became more perfect. They were covered with a varnish whose shine produced a beautiful effect: the figures were painted on a white background.” Then, continuing his advance, he arrives in: “a small room, adorned like everything else with beautiful figures in bas-relief and painted. These paintings were all executed with such perfection that I thought I should call this room the room of beauties. . ” The sarcophagus room amazes him just as much.

He was so totally won over that the idea of making this incredible monument known to as many people as possible was born. He, therefore, decides to make a complete statement, with the objective of publishing the plates and drawings. Thus he appealed to Alessandro Ricci, doctor and designer who arrived in Egypt in 1817: “I had hired Signor Ricci, a young man from Italy, very skilled at drawing, and who, with a little practice, became perfect in his imitations of hieroglyphics. He was to begin the designs of the tomb upon his arrival in Thebes. “

This is how: “from February to March (1818), Ricci worked alone in the tomb to copy as many reliefs as possible”. On May 10, Belzoni found him in the Valley of the Kings. “He was amazed by the work carried out by this artist doctor, who was decidedly very talented: most of the large murals in the tomb of the Apis had already been copied and he was waiting for Giambattista and his shipment of beeswax to take the prints of all the bas-reliefs. Both camping in this hypogeum, they devoted the entire summer of 1818 to this exhausting task. “

The result was admirable, but it required a lot of skill and patience: “The most difficult thing was to take impressions of the figures without damaging the colours with which they were coated. Counting the figures of life-size, I found some in all. one hundred and eighty-two. As for the figures one to three feet high, I did not count them, but there could hardly have been less than eight hundred. There were in this tomb about two thousand figures Hieroglyphics, varying in size from one to six inches; I copied them all faithfully, with their colours. ” From this immense work will result in an impressive number of drawings and wax prints of the walls of the tomb …

A priest, Seti with Ptah-Sokaris, Seti with Geb and a representation of the soul of Nekhen
Watercolor of the tomb of Seti I by Alessandro Ricci for Giovanni Belzoni (
© Bristol City Museum & Art Galleries)

After passing through Italy, Belzoni returned to London at the end of 1819: there he published, in 1820, two volumes of “Narrative of the Operations and Recent Discoveries within the Pyramids, Temples, Tombs and Excavations, in Egypt and Nubia; and of a Journey to the Cost of the Red Sea, in search of the Ancient Berenice; and another to the Oasis of Jupiter Amon “.

It is difficult to say with precision when the idea came to him to make an exhibition but, in one of his works, Brian M. Fagan specifies that, shortly after his return, an article of “Times” specified that: “Belzoni would exhibit his ‘magnificent tomb’ in Thebes as soon as he found the appropriate room “. With his wife Sarah – the companion of his many ‘expeditions’ and adventures – they opt for the “Egyptian Hall of Piccadilly”. Built-in 1812, it displays a facade of “Egyptianizing” architecture which combines pediments, columns, bas-reliefs and statues. With a lot of “publicity”, the exhibition opened its doors on May 1, 1821. Belzoni took care to ensure the presence of numerous personalities. He also “attracted” them, from the day before, by the “unwrapping” of a mummy …

Facade of the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, London, venue
where the Belzoni exhibition on the tomb of Sethi I was held in 1821

The magic of Egypt is sweeping over London. “Two life-size models of the two most beautiful pieces in the tomb of Seti I dominated the exhibition, the pillared room and another showing five human figures. Here the visitor could see all the splendour of a royal tomb. Magnificent figures of Osiris, Seti I, Horus, Anubis and other gods stood on the walls of the halls, with vivid descriptions of the terrible underworld of the dead. Belzoni also reproduced Abu Simbel in the form of the model. A cross-section of the pyramid of Khafre has revealed the mysteries of one of the greatest monuments of the Nile. Lion-headed statues of the goddess Sekhmet, mummies, papyrus … “Success will be immediate with, in particular:” thousand nine hundred entries, the first day, at the price of half a crown! ” and the exhibition will remain for more than a year.

File:La tombe de Sethi 1er (KV.17) (Vallée des Rois, Thèbes ouest) - 2.jpg  - Wikimedia Commons
http://Wikimedia Commons

At first, “Paris” will ask to take plaster copies: “on the wax impressions of Belzoni and coloured with the precision of the beautiful paintings of Alessandro Ricci”. Then, in 1822, the exhibition moved to the French capital, 29 boulevard des Italiens, at the “Bains Chinois”. In this establishment built by Samson Nicolas Lenoir in 1787 (it will be destroyed in 1853, shortly after its acquisition by Richard Wallace), it will be wonderfully enhanced and even “embellished by the happiest illumination”.

A story, as incredible as it is marvellous, relates that: “on September 27, 1822, at the very hour when Champollion addressed his famous ‘Letter to M. Dacier’, relating to the deciphering of hieroglyphs, was passing on the Seine, on a large barge, the facsimile of the tomb of Seti I. Like the English, the French will be amazed by the reproductions of the hypogeum. “

Gustave Lefèvre recalls: “In 1822, the explorer Belzoni, originally from Padua, exhibited, at the Boulevard des Italiens, http://29 boulevard des Italiens life-size reproductions of the main rooms of the tomb of Sethi I, which he had discovered in 1817: all of Parisian society flocked to this extraordinary exhibition. ” Champollion himself: “will go and copy texts”.

With his book translated into French and published in 1821: “which tells of his work in Egypt and Nubia, Belzoni awakens the attention of curious minds: without knowing it, he helps Champollion to obtain the necessary credits for his trip to Egypt”. (Jean Vercoutter, “In search of forgotten Egypt”).

The exhibition will then move to Saint Petersburg.

Portrait of Giovanni Battista Belzoni published by his wife Sarah in 1824

As for Belzoni: “he had decided to leave Europe in order to go in search of the sources of Niger in West Africa”. But on December 3, 1823, while on the road to Timbuktu, he was swept away by dysentery. He was only 45 at the time.

Sarah, now widowed, will remain in London for a while. She will live on the sale of lithographs and: “when the exhibitions had definitively closed their doors, all their content was the subject of passionate auctions; we went so far as to pay four hundred and ninety pounds for reproductions of the falls plus some additional drawings “.

Thanks to Belzoni and Sethi, Egyptomania continued, indeed, to conquer hearts!

Marie Grillot


Travels in Egypt and Nubia, Giovanni Belzoni
The Archaeological Adventure in Egypt: Great Discoveries, Famous Pioneers, Treasure Hunters and First Travelers, Brian L. Fagan, Pygmalion
The Rape of the Nile: Tomb Robbers, Tourists, and Archaeologists in Egypt , Brian Fagan
The harvest of the gods – The great adventure of Egyptology, Jean-Jacques Fiechter
In search of forgotten Egypt – Discoveries Gallimard, Jean Vercoutter
Pharaoh: Reborn Exhibition in Bristol (Considerations on Belzoni and Ricci)
Egypt Uncovered: Belzoni and the Tomb of Pharaoh Seti I
Travelers in Egypt, Paul Starkey, Janet Starkey, IBTauris
Giovanni Belzoni e il bicentenario dimenticato , Alberto Siliotti
Egypt and the vocabulary of Balzac and Th. Gautier ”, Gustave Lefebvre, In: Reports of the sessions of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 89th year, N. 4, 1945. pp. 554-571.
Italian souvenirs in Paris , Jean Modot

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