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Champollion: On the trail of hieroglyphics

, Louvre Lens, Lens

To mark the 200th anniversary of the decipherment of hieroglyphs, and to celebrate its 10th anniversary, the Louvre-Lens is organising a large exhibition devoted to one of the most fascinating symbols of Egyptian civilization: hieroglyphs.  

This writing system, which appeared in around 3200 BC, was deciphered by Jean-François Champollion (1790–1832). Drawing on the work of his predecessors, and thanks to his study of the famous Rosetta Stone, discovered in 1799, Champollion managed to solve one of the biggest mysteries of the civilization of the pharaohs. The letter he wrote to Bon-Joseph Dacier (1742–1833), the Hellenist and member of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, in September 1822 became the key text of the decipherment of hieroglyphs. In it Champollion explains how hieroglyphic writing works, drawing on his knowledge of other forms of writing used by the ancient Egyptians, such as demotic, Greek and hieratic.  

A veritable sacred form of writing, described by the Egyptians themselves as the “divine word”, hieroglyphic writing was used on every surface, from papyrus to stone and metal, in religious, administrative and funerary contexts. 

In the exhibition, large-format works will rub shoulders with smaller objects, highlighting the richness of both this writing system and one of humankind’s oldest civilizations. The exhibition sets out to decipher the story of Jean-François Champollion and the context – intellectual, scientific, cultural, archaeological and political – that enabled this scholar to solve the age-old secret of hieroglyphs. 

VIVE Arts is proud to serve as the virtual reality partner for ‘Champollion, the Egyptian’, a VR experience that allows visitors to see through the eyes of Jean-François Champollion and enter the temple of Abu Simbel seven years after the linguist unravelled the mystery of hieroglyphics. This seminal expedition allowed him to affirm his alphabet through an encounter with the great Ramses II. By the light of a flashlight and accompanied by the voice of Champollion, visitors have the opportunity to enter the heart of an exceptional Egyptian site and experience a reconstruction of the temple drawing from the watercolours of David Roberts. ‘Champollion, the Egyptian’ is written and produced by Agnès Molia & Gordon and co-produced by Lucid Realities, Tournez S’il Vous Plaît, Louvre and Louvre Lens.  

Thanks to an immersive exhibition design featuring more than 350 works, embracing sculptures, paintings, objets d’art, documents and the graphic arts, this ambitious retrospective is an opportunity for the Louvre-Lens to pay tribute to the man who was the first curator of the Louvre’s Egyptian museum in the early 19th century, Jean-François Champollion. 

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