John Gardner Wilkinson, Aged 46, in Turkish Dress as Painted by Henry Wyndham Phillips (National Trust, Calke Abbey)

Jun 4, 2021

In digitalEPIGRAPHY's second entry discussing the evolution of epigraphy, Survey Egyptologist Júlia Schmied explores the pioneering documentation work of the extraordinary British scholar, Sir John Gardner Wilkinson (1797-1875). To do so, the author goes all the way back to the rediscovery of Egypt following the Napoleonic Wars, when epigraphic methods were yet to be conceived, and early scholars could rely only on their observation skills and artistic talents to convey the magnificence of the ancient monuments.

As Júlia concludes, Wilkinson was exceptional in this regard. He has been referred to as “the founder of Egyptology in Great Britain.” Indeed, his contribution to Egyptology has been profound. He toured Egypt with a firman in his pocket, an official permission from the authorities to visit sites and carry out excavations, and filled notebook after notebook with drawings and watercolors of the monuments he saw. Even though he was a self-taught artist, his sketches are astonishingly accurate and can still be used as reliable evidence for scholarly purposes.

In many instances, his drawings and paintings are the only records of monuments that have suffered intensive damage in subsequent decades or have since been lost or destroyed. His precision in documenting monuments owed much to the fact that he was the first person to work in Egypt with the knowledge of the ancient Egyptian language. Indeed, while Wilkinson set out on his Egyptian journey as a gentleman traveler of modest means and classical education, he emerged as one of the pioneers of Egyptology and epigraphic documentation.

Click here to read Júlia's entire article!

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