This enchanted tour of Egyptian art by one of its early explorers is one of the most beautiful modern works on ancient Egyptian art. Prisse d'Avennes' monumental work, first published in Paris over a ten-year period between 1868 and 1878, includes the only surviving record of many lost artifacts.
The author of this beautiful album on Egyptian art, Emile Prisse d'Avennes, has rightly been dubbed "the most mysterious of all the great pioneer figures in Egyptology"1 Undoubtedly, this aura of mystery is partly created by the inaccessibility of the documents left by Prisse. But it was his whimsical and uncompromising character that isolated Prisse from his contemporaries, leading them to form highly ambiguous and divergent judgements of his life and works. Until now, the two main sources of information on Prisse are a hagiography by Prisse's son Emile2 and a devastating and most insinuative slander compiled by Maxime Du Camp in Souvenirs Litteraires.^ Neither of these reports can be regarded as objective.
Of course, another major source is constituted by Prisse's own works, varying from the present Atlas and the equally wonderful plates of L'Art arabe, to the dozens of articles, notes, and learned reports published on a surprising variety of subjects. This collection of works demonstrates that Prisse was a remarkable scholar and an able draftsman. These are the admirable aspects of his character that should come first in any valuation of his life and work. Yet it cannot be denied that there was another side to his personality; an exactingness and imperiousness, an unremitting scrupulosity and a disdain for etiquette, that set him apart from his contemporaries.