Sir Digby Wyatt, as he was known, here describes two plates depicting Egyptian work in the newly erected Crystal Palace at Sydenham. A scholarly architect with a great interest in the architectural styles of the past, he had personally overseen all the work on the architectural courts, with an eye to instructing visitors about their characteristic features and the general impression they created. The following excerpt from Views of the Crystal Palace and Park, Sydenham provides a written explanation of what the visitors could see on approaching and entering the Egyptian Court. It has been transcried and formatted, with the addition of links to related material, by Jacqueline Banerjee.


And on the pedestal these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, king of kings!
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The long and level sands stretch far away. - SHELLEY

Next in intensity to the wrapt sentiment of astonishment which overpowers the spectator as he stands beneath the enormous vault of the Great Transept, must be regarded that which is excited by the scene which the artist has attempted to portray in this Plate; and the leading feature of which is the enormous reproduction of a portion of the gigantic tomb or temple of Aboo Simbel in Nubia.

This wonderful monument presents in reality a façade of four sitting figures; two of which only could be reproduced within the limits of the Northern Transept of the Crystal Palace. It has been supposed that the monarch by whom these colossal figures were carved from the living rock was no other than the Sesostris of the Greeks, who flourished 1565 years before the Christian era. Originally discovered by Burckhardt, some'years elapsed before the temple of Aboo Simbel was excavated by Belzoni and others, and its mysterious chambers penetrated and delineated.

The figures represented in the Plate are no less than sixty-one feet in height. The head of each has been modelled from the fine cast made by Mr. Bonomi, for Mr. Hay of Linplum, and by him presented to the British Museum. The remainder of each figure was in the first instance carefully modelled by Mr. Bonomi from measurements taken from the originals by Mr. Owen Jones. Mr. Bonomi's model being, although upon a large scale, many times smaller than the full size of the original, it was carefully enlarged by a system of lines, and what are technically known as sculptors' "points," and reproduced in plaster by M. Desachy and a body of French workmen. As the figures were completed they were sawn into large blocks, and ultimately built up in their present position, as masses of masonry might have been. Those who see only the completed work can form but a faint idea of the care and attention requisite to have insured accuracy of form, and avoided the appearance of distortion.

In order to prevent any misconception as to the true nature of the temple of Aboo Simbel, a careful model of the whole facade has heen prepared and placed in the Egyptian Court; and from this model a very perfect idea of this remarkable monument can easily be formed.

The avenue of Sphinxes which leads along the transept to these stupendous figures represents an almost constant feature in the approaches to the propylea of Egyptian temples; in some instances, extending to even miles in length. The Sphinxes represented in the Plate have been cast from the fine specimen preserved in the Louvre, which, though still most noble in form and design, has suffered much from exposure to the weather. It is interesting, as bearing in its hieroglyphic inscription the names of two sovereigns who reigned at an interval of no less than two hundred years; being an instance of those apparent palimpsest hieroglyphics which are not uncommon in Egyptian monuments.


But on the west, a long majestic race
Of Egypt's priests the painted niches grace,
Who measured Earth, described the starry spheres,
And traced the long records of lunar years.
High on his car Sesostris struck my view,
Whom sceptred slaves in golden harness drew:
His hands a bow and pointed javelin hold,
His giant limbs are arm'd in scales of gold.
Between the statues obelisks were placed,
And the Iearn'd walls with hieroglyphies graced. — Pope

Although England in the nineteenth century may boast its structures of glass and iron exceeding in dimensions even the almost fabulous enormity of Egyptian structures, it has been impossible to bring within the limits of the former an adequate representation of the monumental character of the latter. The forms and colours which characterise Egyptian art have, indeed, been copied with the greatest fidelity; but the stupendous element of size it has been beyond the artist's power to obtain. As in the illustration of Medieval Architecture it has been impossible to bring within the limits of a Fine Art Court the splendours of Cologne and York, so has it been found impracticable fitly to represent the magnitude of Karnac or Denderah.

The façade shown in our present Plate is a representation of a portico of the Ptolemaic period; the capitals and columns having been copied from the best specimens of the order in various parts of Egypt. The principle of their arrangement has been adopted from the portico of a A href="../../../painting/roberts/holyland/99.html">temple at Edfou, which Mr. Owen Jones affirms to be the finest Ptolemaic structure now existing. "According to this system," he observes, "the two centre capitals are the richest; the two next less elaborate; while the two last represent the palm . "Mr. Jones makes the following interesting remarks upon the nature of such capitals:—

The palm-leaf and lotus capitals seem to be an introduction of the Ptolemaic times, which we cannot trace directly from the Pharaonic period; they appear suddenly with the Ptolemaic buildings, but the intermediate stages or transitions from the more ancient capitals cannot be traced; although we may find on Pharaonic buildings flat representations of lotus-leaves, similarly arranged in groups or bunches, yet nowhere do they take the solid form, as in the Ptolemaic buildings. This order was adopted during the Roman period, to the complete exclusion of the Pharaonic types; and it is remarkable that the Romans, unlike the Greeks, added no new element to Egyptian art; their masonry was generally more perfect than the more ancient buildings; but art rapidly declined, and the sculpture especially became debased.

The lions which guard the approach on either side have been taken from those fine specimens presented to the British Museum by the Duke of Northumberland, — better known in connexion with Egyptian antiquities as Lord Prudhoe.

Beyond, and parallel with the exterior façade, is seen in the Plate a range of piers, against which stand gigantic figures, holding crooks and fails in their hands. These have been taken from the Ramseion, at Thebes, where the originals are thirty feet in height. Under the guise of Osiris they represent the great monarch Rameses, the founder of the structure which is called by some writers the Memnonium, and by Hecatæus the tomb of Ozymandias.

The winged globe, with serpents beneath it, in the centre of the frieze over the main entrances, indicates the protecting divinity of entrances. The hieroglyphics, which extend along the frieze beneath, have been ingeniously composed to express that, "In the seventeenth year of the reign of her Majesty, the ruler of the waves, the royal daughter Victoria, lady most gracious, the chiefs, architects, sculptors, and painters, erected this Palace and Gardens with a thousand columns, a thousand decorations, a thousand statues of chiefs and ladies, a thousand trees, a thousand flowers, a thousand birds and beasts, a thousand fountains (tanks), and a thousand vases. The architects, and painters, and sculptors, built this Palace as a book for the instruction of the men and women of all countries, regions, and districts. May it be prosperous!"

Beyond the statues of Rameses may be seen a portion of the "Hall of Columns" at Karnac; and in the extreme distance a part of the model, to which we have before alluded, of the temple of Aboo Simbel.

Related Material


Wyatt, M. Digby (Matthew Digby), Sir, 1820-1877. Views of the Crystal Palace And Park, Sydenham. From drawings by eminent artists and photographs by P.H. Delamotte. First series. London: Day and Son, 1854. Hathi Trust, from a copy in the University of California library. Web. 27 August 2021.

Created 27 August 2021