March 23, 2012
Belzoni, along with Bernardino Drovetti were perhaps the two people, who more than any others started the raiding of Egypt’s antiquities, to fill the museums & palaces of the west. Were they just doing, what was accepted at the time, or was a lot of history plundered to their reckless methods?
Wall Street Journal
A Pre-Digital Tomb Raider
Sifting sand, opening crypts, raising fallen statues and scooping up anything marketable—and transportable—to Britain.
By GERARD HELFERICH
In the Egyptian gallery of London’s British Museum stands a 3,400-year-old statue carved from polished black stone. Lifted from the city of Thebes, the figure depicts Amenhotep III, who ruled Egypt from about 1386 B.C. to 1350 B.C., when the kingdom was at the peak of its power and prosperity. Sitting erect but serene, his hands resting on his thighs, Amenhotep seems every inch the pharaoh. But one detail disturbs the regal impression: Beside the king’s left foot, with all the subtlety of a Times Square billboard, appears the crudely carved name “Belzoni.” How this Italian commoner came to be forever linked with an Egyptian pharaoh is now the subject of a lively, witty biography by Ivor Noël Hume.
Though Giovanni Battista Belzoni is not generally recalled today, he is still infamous among archaeologists. Born in 1778 in Padua, Italy, Giovanni worked in his father’s barbershop until age 16, then left to study in Rome. After Napoleon Bonaparte captured the Eternal City in 1797, Belzoni wandered Europe for a time, ending up in London, where he hoped to secure work as a hydraulic engineer. But the only job the 6-foot-6 Italian could find was as a circus performer, billed as “the Patagonian Sampson” and toting a dozen lesser men about the stage.
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