Bernardino Drovetti

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Bernardino Drovetti
Born (1776-01-07)January 7, 1776
Died March 5, 1852(1852-03-05) (aged 76)
Nationality Italian-French
Occupation Antiquities collector, diplomat, politician

Bernardino Michele Maria Drovetti (January 7, 1776 – March 5, 1852) was an Italian antiquities collector, diplomat, and politician. He is best remembered for having acquired the Turin Royal Canon and for his questionable behavior in collecting ancient Egyptian antiquities.[1]


Born in Barbania, a comune near Turin in the kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, Drovetti later obtained the French nationality and joined the Grande Armée. As an official, during the French campaign in Egypt (1798–99) he distinguished himself by saving the life of Joachim Murat, and later he became the French Consul-General of Egypt during both the Empire (until 1814) and the Bourbon Restoration, between 1820 and 1829. He also earned Wāli Muhammad Ali's trust and had a role in some of the latter's administrative reforms. In 1820 he was awarded the title of Chevalier dans l'Ordre de la Legion d'Honneur.[1]

During his stay in Egypt, Drovetti became a passionate and avid collector of Egyptian antiquities. He engaged several agents and was particularly active in Luxor; shortly he gathered huge amounts of findings which he managed to sell in Europe.[1] His first collection was refused by France, but was acquired by King Charles Felix of Sardinia in 1824 and carried to Turin, where it became the first core of the future Museo Egizio. Another collection was purchased by King Charles X of France and is now stored at the Louvre. A third one was acquired by Karl Richard Lepsius in 1836 and carried in Prussia in order of being accommodated in the Egyptian Museum of Berlin.[1] Among the antiquities sold to the King of Sardinia there was the invaluable Turin Royal Canon, a papyrus bearing a list of several pharaohs which is datable to the reign of Ramesses II and which was found by Drovetti at Luxor in 1820.

Later in his life, Drovetti lost his mind and was confined in a lunatic asylum at Turin. He died here in March 5, 1852.[1]


While he contributed significantly to the creation of three of the largest Egyptological collections in Europe and substantially increased the European interest in ancient Egypt, Drovetti is also remembered for his ruthlessness towards other collectors and excavators. He was particularly hostile against Henry Salt, Giovanni Battista Belzoni and Jean-François Champollion:[1] for example, during his excavations at Luxor around 1818 and later, Belzoni reported to have being harassed by two of Drovetti's agents, Antonio Lebolo and a certain Rosignani;[2] Drovetti also tried several times to hinder Champollion's expedition in Egypt (1827–28), likely to prevent a competitor in his affairs.[3] Drovetti and his agents were also deemed of having a careless and unscrupolous conduct towards their discoveries, and it is believed that the fragmentary state of the Turin Royal Canon is at least partially due to this behavior.[1]

In popular culture[edit]

Drovetti was portrayed by Joseph Long in the 2005 BBC docudrama Egypt.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Dawson, Warren R. (1951). Who Was Who in Egyptology. London: Harrison & sons (reprint 1972).  , p. 90
  2. ^ Dawson (1951), pp. 166; 253
  3. ^ Robinson, Andrew (2012). Cracking the Egyptian Code: The Revolutionary Life of Jean-Francois Champollion. Oxford University Press. , pp. 179-81

Further reading[edit]

  • Ridly, Ronald T. (1998). Napoleon's Proconsul In Egypt: The Life and Times of Bernardino Drovetti. Rubicon Press. ISBN 0-948695-59-5.