Alessandro Ricci, A Master of Imitation Divine


A silent artist! Alessandro Ricci was a master of imitation of divinity like the craftsmen artisans, even though he had an inner connection to the Gods and Goddesses of Egypt to paint them. Although, he didn’t care to make himself as famous as he had earned.

Because of his unconcern, we find all of his works under the names of Belzoni, Ricci!

Anyway, here is another marvellous work of Marie Grillot to read. 🙏💖🙏

Alessandro Ricci, Doctor-Draughtsman, from Belzoni to Séthi, Bankes to Champollion…


Giovanni Belzoni / Alessandro Ricci Seti I before Isis and Anubis, c. 1821
© Bristol Culture: Bristol Museums and Art Gallery

In July 1827, the outline of the Franco-Tuscan expedition to Egypt took shape. This project will receive the consent of King Charles X and the Grand Duke of Tuscany, with the well-defined missions of visiting the monuments of ancient Egypt and buying objects for the royal collections.

Around Jean-François Champollion and Ippolito Rosellini are grouped: “scholars and technicians both French and Italian”. This is how the French team brings together Antoine Bibent, architect; Nestor L’Hôte, Alexandre Duchesne, Pierre Lehoux, Edouard Bertin fils, designers and painters as well as Charles Lenormant, inspector of fine arts.

it is made up of the Tuscan team as follows: the designer Salvador Cherubini, the naturalist Raddi and his trainer Galastri, and the painter Angelelli… And a doctor – draftsman: Alessandro Ricci.

The members of the Franco-Tuscan Expedition gathered around Jean-François Champollion
and Ippolito Rosellini in the ruins of Thebes
Painting by Giuseppe Angelilli (Archaeological Museum of Florence)
Alessandro Ricci is represented on the left, in profile and from behind

The presence of Alessandro Ricci, “born in Siena of a Florentine father,” a stonemason, is a real blessing for the expedition! Indeed: “apart from his medical profession, Ricci possessed a remarkable quality as a draughtsman, archaeologist and writer; he also had the adventurous ingenuity and the desire for new things which led him to travel”.

His date of birth remains uncertain; if 1795 maybe sometimes announced. This can in no way agree with certain writings presenting him as the expedition veteran “with his forty-five years”; it should be remembered that Jean-François Champollion had “37 and his collaborators, on average, 10 less”.

If he is probably one of the oldest, he is undoubtedly one of those who knows Egypt the best, having travelled through it several times. “Doctor Ricci, an old regular in the country, who thought of the necessary, made all the essential provisions for our trip to Upper Egypt”, relates Jean-François Champollion.

Alessandro Ricci seems to have arrived in Egypt in 1817. After a year devoted exclusively to practising medicine – which he had studied in Siena – he was contacted by Giovanni Battista Belzoni, but this time for his talents as an artist.

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).

Indeed, on October 18, 1817, the Giant of Padua discovered the tomb of Seti I and wished to make a complete statement to publish the plates and drawings and organise an exhibition in London. “I had engaged Signor Ricci, a young man from Italy, very skilled in drawing, and who, with a little practice, became perfect in his imitations of hieroglyphs. He was to begin the drawings of the tomb on his arrival in Thebes .”

Illustration representing the exhibition on the tomb of Seti I,
organised by Giovanni Belzoni, inaugurated in London on May 1, 1821
GEO 005

Thus: “from February to March, 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 artistic doctor, decidedly very talented: most of the large mural paintings of the tomb of Apis (ed.: this was the name then given to KV 17 because its “owner” had not yet been identified) had already been copied, and he was waiting for Giambattista and his cargo of beeswax to take the impressions of all the bas-reliefs. Both camping in this hypogeum, they devoted the whole summer of 1818 to this exhausting task”.

The result was admirable, but it required a lot of skill and patience: “The most challenging thing was to take impressions of the figures without damaging the colours with which they were coated. In counting the life-size figures, I found all one hundred and eighty-two. As for the figures from one to three feet high, I have not counted them, but there could hardly have been less than eight hundred. There were in this tomb about two thousand figures. Hieroglyphics, whose size varied from one to six inches; I copied them all faithfully, with their colours.

It seems that this work is finally finished, the taste for adventure embraces them again… Thus: “After carefully storing drawings and wax prints at the bottom of the tomb, closing the entrance to it with a solid wooden door and left behind a trusted guard, Belzoni and Ricci loaded a boat full of antiquities, which they sent to Cairo. an expedition in the deserts bordering the Red Sea, in search of the ancient city of Berenike…”

Personalities who “counted” in the “Egyptian” life of Alessandro Ricci:
Giovanni Belzoni, Henry Salt, Sir William John Bankes, Jean-Francois Champollion

At the end of 1818, Ricci was contacted by Sir William John Bankes. As brilliant as he was eccentric, this English aristocrat made a study trip to Egypt with his secretary, Henri William Beechey. The British consul Henry Salt brings him his precious support and presence: “Going up the Nile with the English consul and Baron Sack, (a learned Prussian naturalist and chamberlain to King Frederick-William II, Bankes), was preparing to continue his survey work until ‘ in Nubia. He had hired Doctor Ricci and the young Frenchman Linant de Bellefonds as designers.”

Thus, the draftsmen identify all the monuments leaving invaluable testimonies, constituting data of capital importance for Egyptology. Not only are their drawings beautiful and of high artistic quality, but they are exceptionally well “informed”. They provide precise information on the state of the monuments, their orientation, and their dimensions.

Among their sheets, there are also a large number of epigraphic records… In 1822, Ricci will be – like Linant de Bellefonds -asked for a new “expedition” of the aristocrat who wishes, this time, to join Dongola, enter Meroe, and why not, go in search of the sources of the Nile…

Alessandro Ricci, who had had the good fortune to “save Ibrahim-Pasha (son of Pasha Mohammad-Ali) from dysentery”, returned to Italy as a rich man. He settled in Florence and exhibited his collection of Egyptian antiquities in his home… This is how Champollion met him and asked him for the Franco-Tuscan expedition. In 1829, a scorpion sting forced him to interrupt his work…

“This injury later led to paralysis and dementia.” Alessandro Ricci died in Florence on January 11, 1834.

Portrait of Alessandro Ricci in the painting by Giuseppe Angelilli (Archaeological Museum of Florence)
representing the members of the Franco-Tuscan Expedition
Portrait of Pharaoh Seti I in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings, reproduced by Alessandro Ricci

After the story of such a remarkable life, in the face of so much experience, skills, and adventures, one cannot help but wonder why “signor Ricci” has remained so little known… He did not sign his drawings so well that they have sometimes been attributed to Belzoni…. In contrast, even without having a trained eye when comparing the drawings of the tomb of Seti, one quickly distinguishes those of Belzoni from those due to the immense talent of Ricci… Did he prefer discretion? Did he want to stay in the shadows? The fact that on Angelelli’s painting representing the members of the Franco-Tuscan expedition, he is on the left, in profile and… from behind, is perhaps part of the answer.

Marie Grillot


Travels in Egypt and Nubia, G. Belzoni
The harvest of the gods – The great adventure of Egyptology, Jean-Jacques Fiechter http://Letters of Champollion the Younger collected and annotated by H. Hartleben Volume 1, Letters are written from Italy, Paris, Ernest Leroux Publisher, 1909

Pharaoh: Reborn Exhibition in Bristol (Considerations on Belzoni and Ricci)

“Ricci, Alessandro” (astene)
“Ricci, Alessandro”, by Federico Tognoni
ancient-Egypt. co

A Treasure House of Egyptology. The Catalogue of William John Bankes’ Egyptian Portfolio A Treasure House of Egyptology. The Catalogue of William John Bankes’ Egyptian Portfolio  (1815-1822)

Viaggi del dottore Alessandro Ricci di Siena fatti negli anni 1818, 1819, 1820, 1821, 1822 in Nubia, al Tempio di Giove Ammone, al Monte Sinai, e al Sennar“, Edizione critica e commento”The great Belzoni“, by John H Taylor
Travellers in Egypt, Paul Starkey, Janet Starkey, I.B.Tauris “William John Bankes (1786-1855) – Egyptologist and friend of Lord Byron“, by Rachel Knowles

William John Bankes’ collection of drawings and manuscripts relating to ancient Nubia

The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
. Fisher, 2009

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