Napoleon and the Sphinx
Over at the Babylon & Beyond blog, our colleague Borzou Daragahi has a dispatch about the show "Bonaparte and Egypt" at Paris' Institut du Monde Arab. The exhibition of paintings, manuscripts and artifacts chronicles the French general's time in the Egypt after the 18th century invasion he led there.
At first, the Egyptians welcomed Napoleon as a liberator when he and his forces arrived on July 1, 1798, easily defeating the Mamluk forces.
The commander, then only 29 years old, tried to rule by building alliances with local clerics. Their lovingly detailed oil-on-canvas portraits, on display at the Paris exhibit, adorned his Cairo quarters.
Alas, the romance between French troops and Egyptians faded quickly. Within four months of Napoleon’s arrival, Cairo residents rebelled against French troops. Bloody repression ensued. Less than a decade after the French had overthrown an oppressive monarchy in the name of "liberty, equality and fraternity," they were now the oppressors.
Photo: "Bonaparte Before the Sphinx Year," (1867-1868), oil on canvas by Jean-Léon Gérôme, on display at the Institut du Monde Arab in Paris. Credit: Art Renewal Center.