Capart, Jean

Date born: 1877

Place born: Brussels, Belgium

Date died: 1947

Place died: Etterbeek, Belgium

Egyptologist; Chief Curator of the Brussels Royal Museums of Art and History. In 1898, Capart finished his study of Law at the Free University of Brussels. He won an award for his thesis on Egyptian penal law, Droit pénal égyptien, and an abridged version of it was published in Revue de l’Université de Bruxelles (1899-1900). For further training in Egyptology, Capart attended the lessons of Alfred Wiedemann (1856-1936) at Bonn University and also visited other universities. In 1900, he obtained a position as assistant-curator of the Egyptian Antiquities at the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels. He soon traveled to Egypt to purchase new treasures for the collection. In 1912, he was appointed secretary, and he served as chief curator between 1925 and 1942. From 1903 onwards, he combined his work at the museum with a professorship at Liège University, teaching ancient art and archaeology. In 1904, he published Les débuts de l’art en Égypte, an overview of Egyptian art, based on the recent discoveries in the oldest sites of Upper Egypt. The book received great acclaim and in 1905 a revised and enlarged edition appeared in English, Primitive Art in Egypt. Convinced of the importance of photographic documentation, he published several volumes of photographs of newly discovered Egyptian art. In 1920, he published the texts underlying his academic teaching, Leçons sur l’art égyptien, of which the introductory chapters appeared in 1923 in an illustrated English edition, Egyptian Art. Introductory Studies. In 1930 he was elected member of the Royal Academy of Sciences, Arts and Fine Arts of Belgium. For his books on Thebes and Memphis, both published in collaboration with Marcelle Werbrouck (1889-1959), he was granted the 1925-1930 “Prix quinquennal des Sciences Historiques”. In his museum in Brussels, he acted as an enthusiastic manager and took many new initiatives. In 1922, he established an educational service, following a general trend of museum reform in Belgium and abroad. As curator, he paid much attention to the question of authenticity of the new acquisitions and to the state of preservation of the growing collection. In 1934, he employed a chemist, Paul Coremans (q.v.), to set up a scientific laboratory in the museum, and to reorganize the photographic documentation. Both the laboratory and the documentation service, successfully directed by Coremans, eventually became a separate institution, since 1957 known as Royal Institute for the Study and Conservation of Belgium’s Artistic Heritage. Capart traveled often to Egypt, as well as to the United States. On February 18, 1923, her Majesty Queen Elisabeth of Belgium visited, in the company of Capart, the tomb of Tutankhamen, which had recently been opened by the British archaeologist Howard Carter (1874-1939). On this occasion, the Queen took the initiative to establish the Fondation Égyptologique Reine Elisabeth for the promotion of the study of Egyptology. The first aim of this foundation, directed by Capart, was to expand the library of Egyptology at the Brussels Royal Museums of Art and History. A section for papyrology was set up in 1925. In the same year, Capart created the journal Chronique d’Égypte, issued by the Queen Elisabeth Foundation. In 1924-25, Capart gave a series of lectures for various societies of the Archaeological Institute of America. This trip was sponsored by the Foundation of the Commission for the Relief of Belgium. In 1928, he published the text of his lectures, including one on the tomb of Tutankhamen, Lectures on Egyptian Art. A French edition appeared in 1931, Propos sur l’art égyptien. In the 1930s he served the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York as advisory curator of the Charles Edwin Wilbour (1833-1896) Collection of Egyptian Art. Capart’s annotated and illustrated publication of the personal letters of this American Egyptologist appeared in 1936, Travels in Egypt (December 1880 to May 1891). Letters of Charles Edwin Wilbour. In 1946, Capart published Fouilles en Égypte: El Kab, impressions et souvenirs. This Belgian excavation campaign at El Kab, first directed by Capart, and sponsored by the Queen Elisabeth Foundation, began in 1937 and continues today. Capart died in 1947. One of his last works Pour faire aimer l’art égyptien, a brief overview of Egyptian art, was published posthumously by the Queen Elisabeth Foundation. In 1956, a memorial tablet was placed in the narthex of the Brussels museum, in honor of its former Chief Curator. During an official ceremony, Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth unveiled the stone, representing the face of this many-sided man, to whom she had given so much support during his life. MD

Home Country: Belgium

HBiography: “Prof. Jean Capart to visit America” Art News 31 (April 1933): 10; Marlier, G. “Jean Capart, égyptologue et manager des Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire.” Beaux Arts Magazine (March 24, 1939): 5; Lavachery, H.A. “Jean Capart, conservateur en chef des Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire.” Bulletin des Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire series 3, part 14 (November 1942): 122-126; De Genouillac, Henri Bulletin des Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire series 3, part 14 (March 1942): 47-48; “Obituary” Art News 46 (July 1947): 9; Van de Walle, B. and others “Jean Capart (1877-1947)” Chronique d’Égypte 22 (July 1947): 181-218; “Obituary” Arts, Beaux-Arts, Littérature, Spectacles (June 27 1947): 3; “Obituary” Bulletin des Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire series 4, part 19 (July 1947): 103-104; “Tribute” American Journal of Archaeology 51 (October 1947): 434; De Borchgrave d’Altena, J. and Coremans, P. “Inauguration du mémorial dédié à Jean Capart/Inhuldiging van de gedenkplaat ter nagedachtenis van Jean Capart” Bulletin des Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire series 4, 28 (1956): 1-5; De Roo, R. “Les services éducatifs/Educational services” Museum 20, 4 (1967): 269-275. Stracmans, Maurice “L’œuvre égyptologique de Jean Capart” Annuaire de l’Institut de Philologie et d’Histoire Orientales et Slaves 14 (1954-1957): 51-84; Van de Walle, Baudouin Jean Capart (1877-1947). Extract from Liber Memorialis, l’Université de Liège de 1936 à 1966 2. Notices biographiques. Liège: Université de Liège, 1967; Stracmans, Maurice “Jean Capart et l’histoire des religions” Annuaire de l’Institut de Philologie et d’Histoire Orientales et Slaves 20 (1968-1973): 403-425.

Bibliography: for a review of his publications, see the above-mentioned articles of Maurice Stracmans; Folkers, Theunis Liste des publications de M. Jean Capart, président du XXme Congrès international des Orientalistes (Bruxelles 5-10 septembre 1938) avec portrait, offerte aux membres du dit congrès. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1938; Les débuts de l’art en Égypte. Brussels: Vromant & Co, 1904; Primitive Art in Egypt. London: H. Grevel, 1905; Bulletin critique des religions de l’Égypte. Brussels: Misch et Thron, 1905-1913; Leçons sur l’art égyptien. Liège: Vaillant-Carmanne, 1920; Egyptian Art. Introductory Studies. London: G. Allen & Unwin ltd., 1923; and Werbrouck, Marcelle Thebes, the Glory of a Great Past. London: G. Allen & Unwin ltd, 1926; and Werbrouck, Marcelle Memphis à l’ombre des pyramides. Brussels: Vromant & Co, 1930; Lectures on Egyptian Art. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1928; Propos sur l’art égyptien. Brussels: Fondation Égyptologique Reine Elisabeth, 1931; Travels in Egypt (December 1880 to May 1891) Letters of Charles Edwin Wilbour. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Brooklyn Museum, 1936; and others. Tout-ankh-amon. Brussels: Vromant, 1943; Fouilles en Égypte: El Kab, impressions et souvenirs. Brussels: Fondation Égyptologique Reine Elisabeth, 1946; Pour faire aimer l’art égyptien. Brussels: Fondation Égyptologique Reine Elisabeth, 1949.