Sphinx in Pictures
The Sphinx under excavation, about 1820
The Danish marine architect Frederick Norden published the story of his travels in 1755, with a Sphinx drawing in more recognizably ancient Egyptian spirit. The erosion of the face and the damaged nose are recorded in Norden's picture and something of the George Washington set of the head is captured, with its slight Backward tilt. But the eyes, lips and chin are still not right. With the magnificent Description de l'Egypte that was published over a number of years in the early part of the nineteenth century, the first really accurate depictions of the Sphinx became available to world scholarship - in a limited way, for the volumes were necessarily very expensive and printed in small numbers.
Napoleon's team had done their work well and their efforts in the field were well served by those who brought out the volumes of the Description hack in France after Napoleon's downfall. The engravings of the Sphinx vividly portray the damaged state of the face and the head-dress and the erosion of the neck as Napoleon's engineers and savants found the monument.
At the front, sand came up to the shoulders and nothing of the breast was visible (until the engineers dug down, possibly just uncovering the Tuthmosis IV stela before abandoning work); but the whole ridge of the back was visible, and at the hindquarters the sands fell away to reveal something of the rump of the Sphinx. What was entirely new in depictions of the Sphinx was that the whole setting of the Giza Plateau was accurately recorded about it, with correct perspective in the placing and rendering of the pyramids behind it.
The Sphinx by Maxime Du Camp,
The Dream Stela is quite well depicted, with something of its graphic design conveyed, while the jumbled masonry behind it and the column of blocks suggest evidence for the original presence of a statue and the support plate of the heard. But the distance from enclosure floor to chin is vastly exaggerated and the disproportion of head and body quite marked. The first photographs of the Sphinx were taken in 1849 by Maxime Du Camp and published in 1852 in one of the earliest hooks to be extensively illustrated with real photographic prints made from negatives - in this case calotype paper negatives.
The Sphinx at the extreme right of the photography by Hammerschmidt, 1858.
The picture of the Sphinx in Richard Pococke's account of his Egyptian travels, published in 1743, does not altogether escape the classical influence. Erosion and damage are fairly accurately recorded, but the nose of the monument - gone for several centuries by Rococke's time - is shown intact.
1849. From the Photographic Collection of
the New York Public Library.
No doubt the artists who made their sketches on site could avail themselves of the most up-to-date cameras and other drawing aids. When Howard Vyse published his account of Operations carried on at the Pyramids of Giza in three volumes in the early 1840s, the first photograph of the Sphinx had not yet been taken. Howard Vyses picture of the Sphinx under excavation by Caviglia shows the sand dune around the Sphinx quite parlously opened up in front of the breast and round the left shoulder, revealing the front paws and the chapel between the forelegs.
Du Camp traveled with Flaubert a year or two before Madame Bovary, and both writers were bowled over by the Sphinx. 'No drawing I have seen conveys a proper idea of it,' wrote Flaubert, 'the best thing is an excellent photograph that Max took.' In the better of Du Camp's two photographs, the benefits of the first modern sand-clearances are still to be seen, but the Dream Stela has apparently gone under again. In the background is the pyramid of Menkaure with one of its subsidiaries. Khafre's pyramid is out of frame to the right, and his causeway is entirely invisible under the sands. The featureless and too-light sky has resulted from the color-blind quality of the early photographic processes.