(All photos are from Culturewho was kind enough to lend me his talent, the battery of my camera having, alas, remained at home!)
When I was little, like many children, I was a fan, absolutely a fan of Egyptology. How will you tell me? So much so that, from morning to night, I lived, ate, and slept only for Egypt. And if I had known, then, that there was somewhere in France a museum dedicated to Jean-François Champollion, discoverer of hieroglyphs and father of Egyptology, I would surely have dragged my parents to Vif, Isère, and not moved from there all day. The problem is that such a museum did not exist, it is normal, it has just opened! And since I am, somewhere, still a child, I therefore went there with the eyes of my eight years.
Inaugurated on June 4, and free for all visitors, the Champollion museum is located in the former secondary residence of the Champollion family, in Vif, in Isère, not far from Grenoble. It is located at the foot of the Vercors, whose high reliefs can be admired from the park, thus giving it an incomparable natural setting, which alone would have been worth the visit if the museum were not such a nugget!
Originally, it was not the country house of Champollion, but that of his older brother, Jacques-Joseph, finally that of the wife of the latter, Zoé Berriat, daughter of a great notable of the region, who had acquired the house and then passed it on to his daughter. At the invitation of his brother, to whom he was very close, Champollion often came to stay there in the summer, which is why many objects related to his frequent stays remained, such as his bed or his desk.
Until 2001, the house still belonged to the descendants, who luckily had the concern to preserve it in its integrity, refusing the numerous proposals which were made to them to sell the objects having belonged to the discoverer of the hieroglyphs. Significant restoration work had to be carried out, as well as an upgrade for accessibility to people with reduced mobility, while respecting the coherence of the place, listed as a historical monument. The oldest part dates from the 16th century!
What a surprise when you enter the first room of the museum, what a surprise and above all what happiness, since you find yourself instantly projected into a bourgeois living room from the first half of the 19th century, and with an exquisite decoration with that, all in buttercup yellow, reminiscent of the golds of Ancient Egypt. It is therefore difficult to believe that this piece was entirely created by the designers of the museum, who wanted to offer the visitor the most authentic possible journey through the era, as well as an intimate journey through the history of this family whose authentic portraits are presented to us. The living room, but also the dining room, appear as they could have been at the time.
It was at the age of ten-eleven that Champollion, a turbulent student, incidentally, began to develop a passion for the languages of the Orient. In addition to the Greek and Latin taught to him in Grenoble, he thus learned Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac and Aramaic, while perfecting himself in the study of classical drawing, as evidenced by promising studies in red chalk or charcoal which are kept in the museum.
This growing interest of Champollion for Eastern civilizations, and more particularly their languages, is part of the context of the Egyptian Expedition, which the museum endeavors to present through a collection of paintings and authentic Egyptian antiquities on loan from the Louvre Museum. Led by Bonaparte between 1798 and 1801 on his return from a military campaign that ended in debacle, the Expedition included no less than 167 scholars responsible for studying the territory in each of its aspects, whose research was then published in “The Description of Egypt”, colossal encyclopedia of nearly nine hundred plates.
The painting above, for example, shows the members of the Expedition studying the temple of Dendera, where painters and antiquarians, as well as surveyors and engineers, are busy.
It was precisely at this time that the famous Rosetta Stone was discovered. Originally, it was a decree, published in -196 under the reign of Ptolemy V Epiphanes and written in three languages: hieroglyphic Egyptian, demotic Egyptian, as well as Greek. Nevertheless, due to its status as spoils of war, the Rosetta Stone was sent directly to the British Museum in London; Champollion could therefore only study reproductions or imprints, which is fascinating.
And although he probably never had the leisure to contemplate the original, it was through hard work and comparisons that in 1822 he finally succeeded where so many others before him had failed. Indeed, thanks to his mastery of oriental languages, of which he had studied no less than twelve (as well as Chinese!), he understood that hieroglyphs were a combination of phonetic and symbolic signs, as well as word signs, that is to say determining the word they precede. The key to decipher them!
“I got my business! he wrote to his brother from Paris.
Following the Egyptian Expedition, and later the historic discovery of Champollion, a real wave of Egyptomania took hold of France, which the museum illustrates with objects that belonged to the family, including a library bearing this incredible cartouche, which features the name Champollion phonetically.
Despite the major importance of his discovery, Champollion was not content to remain the decipherer of hieroglyphs, he also studied Egyptian civilization – then largely unknown – in its entirety, which is why he is rightly considered the father of Egyptology
In 1926, he was even appointed curator at the Louvre Museum and it was he who was the first to bring Egyptian antiquities into the collections there. Today, we tend to forget it because Egypt is very present in our museums, but at the time it induced a certain upheaval in Western consciousness because, until then, only the Roman and Greek civilizations were considered as civilizations. mothers.
If he constantly studied it, Champollion did not really go to Egypt until the age of 37, in 1828. There, the shock for him was total: “I arrived (…) in this land of Egypt, after which I longed for a long time. I kissed Egyptian soil as I touched it for the first time, having desired it for so long. He got used to it so much so that he even changed his look, as this portrait of his friend and colleague Giuseppe Angelelli shows.
Alas, he was to die four years later, leaving his adored brother to take up the torch of his research, the library of which the museum has reconstituted.
In addition to this fascinating journey through the permanent collections, the museum also offers temporary exhibitions related to Egyptology, as well as numerous activities for children. Do not forget, also, to go for a walk in the 2.5 hectare park adjoining the museum, it is a delight in good weather!
Champollion Museum in Vif
45 rue Champollion, 38450 Vif
Free, open every day except Monday