vendredi 14 juin 2013

Une “majestueuse apparition”

Architecte de formation, grand voyageur, l'artiste-écrivain anglais William Henry Bartlett (1809-1854) fut l'un des plus grands illustrateurs paysagistes de sa génération.
Voici comment il décrit et illustre le Sphinx dans son ouvrage The Nile boat or glimpses of the land of Egypt, 1849 :
“A majestic apparition suddenly burst upon us - an enormous head and shoulders, whitened by the moonlight, towered above the extremity of one of the sand ravines which lay in obscurity below, through which, far beneath the chest of the statue, dimly peeped out the traces of the winged globe upon the tablet formerly buried beneath its paws. The features were much mutilated, yet an expression faintly beamed through them of bland repose and immutable serenity. The pyramids in all their vastness arose behind. No assemblage of objects could be more awful or imposing. The heaving sands which surge up and down, like the petrified waves of a sea, by concealing the base of the Sphynx, and burying the temple and avenue of approach which formerly led up, cause it to resemble some mysterious pre-adamite monarch, or one of those gigantic genii of Arabian fiction, which make their abode in the desolate places of the earth. It is not surprising, therefore, that it should, as Wilkinson informs us, be known to the superstitious Arabs of the present day by the name of Aboolhol, or " the father of terror " or immensity.
In its state of pristine perfection, no single statue in Egypt could have vied with it. When by the labours of M. Caviglia, the lower part of the figure, which had been covered up by the
sand, was at length uncovered for a while by laborious and Sisyphus-like toil, (the sand slipping down almost as fast as it could be removed), it presented the appearance of an enormous couchant Sphynx, with gigantic paws, between which crouched, as if for protection, a miniature temple with a platform, and flights of steps for approaching it, with others leading down from the plain above. A crude brick wall protected it from the sand.
It is hardly possible to conceive a more strange or imposing spectacle than it must have formerly presented to the worshipper, advancing as he did along this avenue of approach, confined between the sand-walls of the ravine, and looking up over the temple to the colossal head of the tutelary deity, which beamed down upon him from an altitude of sixty feet, with an aspect of godlike benignity. On uncovering the paws, accordingly, many inscriptions were found, records of the admiration of Grecian travellers, and of careful restorations by the Roman emperors. One of the former, as translated by Dr. Young and quoted by Wilkinson, is as follows : 

"Thy form stupendous here the gods have placed,

Sparing each spot of harvest-hearing land,
And with this mighty work of art have graced
A rocky isle, encumbered once with sand,
And near the pyramids have bid thee stand :

Not that fierce Sphynx that Thebes erewhile laid waste,
But great Latona's servant mild and bland ;
Watching that prince beloved who fills the throne
Of Egypt's plains, and calls the Nile his own.
That heavenly monarch, (who his foe defies,)
Like Vulcan powerful, (and like Pallas wise)."

The whole figure is cut out of the rock, excepting the fore legs. The head formerly was adorned with a cap, which lias been removed, but portions of the drapery at the side of the
face remain. Should any one imagine that the annexed representation exaggerates the size, it may be stated that the circumference of the head around the forehead is given by Pliny as one hundred and two feet. It is supposed to have been originated by Thotmes III, and the names of his son and of later monarchs are inscribed upon it, and they are represented as offering sacrifice to a smaller representation of it.”

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