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Egyptische kast in de Nottebohmzaal Foto: Michel Wuyts, Bart Huysmans

Egyptian Cabinet

There is a remarkable piece of furniture in the Nottebohm Room: The Egyptian Cabinet. It holds twelve unique and impressive volumes containing a total of nine hundred lithographs by Eberhard Weidenbach. The book itself is the ‘Denkmäler aus Aegypten und Aethiopiën’ by Karl Richard Lepsius, the result of a three-year expedition along the Nile Valley starting in 1842.

The volumes were a gift to the City of Antwerp from the then Prince Regent Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig of Prussia, later Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany. This gift, made in 1860, was thanks to a request made by Jean-Baptiste Nothomb, then a Belgian envoy to Prussia. He asked for a copy of the book for the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, to provide inspiration for teachers and students. In the 19th century everyone was enthralled by Ancient Egypt. The reason for this was the scientific expedition that accompanied Napoleon on his Egyptian campaign that started in 1798. The findings of this expedition were collected in the thirteen-volume ‘Déscription de l’Egypte’.

After their arrival from Prussia, the books were put on display in the academy for several days. After that they were deposited in the City Library, where they were kept in the Egyptian Cabinet. The cabinet was probably originally intended for the ‘Déscription de l’Egypte’, which the library had bought in Paris in 1839.

The cabinet

The cabinet itself is a freestanding piece of furniture with a single door and a top that can be hinged upward. Inside there is a wooden box with eight shelves that can be slid out; two volumes are laid on each shelf. It is made of lime and oak wood, with crotch veneer of Cuban or Honduran mahogany. The corner posts and the topmost band are decorated with Egyptian-inspired woodcarving. The cabinet and the books were restored in 2005.

Digitised copy

The Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Sachsen-Anhalt has digitised its copy of the ‘Denkmäler’ and made it available on its website. The Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library possesses many other standard works on Egypt, and in 2006 it held the exhibition ‘Mummies in the Library’.