Maspero, Gaston C. C.
Gaston Camille Charles Maspero
Egyptologist, developer of the Cairo Museum and author of popular books on Egyptian art. Maspero was born to parents of Milanese extraction. As a young man he studied hieroglyphics école Normale in Paris. He met the French conservator of Egyptian monuments for the Egyptian Pasha, Auguste Mariette (1821-1881) in 1867, demonstrating his skill by successfully translating some recently discovered fragments. Maspero was appointed a répétiteur (teacher) of Egyptian language and archeology at the école Pratique des Hautes études in 1869. He moved to occupy Champollion's chair (Professor of Egyptology) at the Collège de France in 1874. In 1880, an archaeological mission to Cairo was established by the French government, with Maspero as its director. However, Mariette who was director of the Boulaq Museum (the beginnings of the Cairo Museum), died the next year and Maspero succeeded him. Shortly after that, the royal mummies at Der al-Bahari were discovered, raising the profile of the Museum to which they were moved. Maspero whetted the public's appetite in this new find by publishing articles in various magazines on Egyptian art, including these discoveries. He and various scholars, including the German archaeologist/architectural historian Ludwig Borchardt authored the general catalog of antiquities for the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, (Catalogue général des antiquités égyptiennes du Musée du Caire). Maspero resigned from the museum in 1887 to return to the Collège de France and teaching where he was bestowed a D. C. L from Oxford University. His Archéologie égyptienne appeared in French and in an English version the same year with notes by the Egyptologist Sir W. M. Flinders Petrie (1853-1942). In 1895 he produced his history of the ancient world, Histoire ancienne des peuples de l'Orient classique, again simultaneously appearing in English. These publications gained him notoriety with the literature English-speaking world. However, the Cairo mission declined after Maspero's departure and in 1899 he was reappointed to the Egyptian initiative. There he oversaw the continuing construction of a permanent museum for Egyptian antiquities, which had been moved from Boulaq to Giza in 1880, and the exploration of Karnak. Under his leadership, the Cairo Museum building was opened in 1900 and the Giza collection moved to it in 1902. As an academic and archaeologist, Maspero understood the importance of the museum catalog. He devoted much of the resources to publishing the collections, which, by 1909, mounted to twenty-four volumes or sections. With the assistance of the Committee of Egyptology, Maspero encouraged archaeological exploration by issuing permits to numerous agencies. His health declining, he retired in 1914, succeeded by his assistant, Pierre Lacau (1873-1963). Maspero returned to Paris as permanent secretary of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. He died suddenly two years later while attending a meeting of the Académie. He is buried at the Cimetière du Montparnasse, Paris. Maspero's book, Egyptian Archaeology (1887) was a staple of early ancient art courses in the English-speaking world; it was the second book to be listed in the course catalog as a text for the art history classes during the early years of Princeton University's department of Art and Archaeology. Maspero's art histories focus more on the stories about art than strict object analysis. Even in his lifetime, his works were seen as glossing over the inconsistencies of archaeological discoveries in favor of a positivism. A London Times obituary described his methodology, saying "His synthetic instinct and literary facility . . . produced a narrative which [was] often more coherent and continuous than the evidence warrants." He was a key player in the establishment of Egyptian art discoveries: in 1907 he suggested Howard Carter to Lord Carnarvon when Carnarvon needed an archaeologist to excavate the Valley of the Kings.
[collected writings:] Mélanges Maspero. 3 vols. Cairo, Egypt: Imprimerie de l'Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale, 1934ff.; Histoire ancienne des peuples de l'Orient classique. 3 vols. Paris: Hachette, 1895-1899, volume 1, English, The Dawn of Civilization: Egypt and Chaldaea. New York: Appleton, 1894; Archéologie égyptienne. Paris: Quantin, 1887, English, Egyptian Archæology. London: H. Grevel, 1887; Catalogue général des antiquités égyptiennes du Musée du Caire. 1900ff. [various centers, but principally] Cairo: Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale, 1902; Art in Egypt. New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1912.
David, Elisabeth. Gaston Maspero, 1846-1916: le gentleman égyptologue. Paris: Ed. Pygmalion, G. Watelet, 1999; "Death of Sir Gaston Maspero." Times (London) July 3, 1916, p. 6; "Noted Egyptologist Dead: Gaston Maspero Was a. Professor In College of France, and Author." New York Times July 2, 1916, p. S8.