An Egyptian Procession was one of several historical genre scenes produced late in Bridgman’s career, and one of four major processional scenes painted between 1879 and 1919. These works were closely related — both thematically and compositionally — to the artist’s historical reconstructions of the 1870s, the most famous of which were Les funerailles d’une momie (location unknown), exhibited at the 1877 Paris Salon, and The Procession of the Bull Apis of 1879 (sold in these rooms, May 22, 2018, lot 41). The archaeological detail and exotic subject matter of these paintings immediately compelled comparisons to Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), Bridgman’s teacher and mentor in Paris during the 1860s. (Indeed, it was said that, "[W]hen translated into American, Gérôme means Frederic A. Bridgman," The Perry Magazine, June 1904, 6.10, p. 421). Bridgman would later bring his own sensibility to Gérôme’s academic teachings, adopting a more naturalistic aesthetic emphasizing the opalescent colors and painterly brushwork seen here.
In the present work, the Greco-Roman temple of Philae acts as a picturesque backdrop for an ancient Egyptian religious procession in honor of the goddess Isis (Navigium Isidis), to whom it was dedicated. The pharaoh who leads the way, incense-burner in hand, wears the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, indicating Isis’s universal worship, while the sacred Apis bull just behind him is adorned with flowers and a solar disk. (As the cow goddess, Isis was believed to be the mother of Apis.) Bridgman made sketches at the fabled site first in 1874 and again during his numerous subsequent visits to the region; these, combined with his diligent research into the manners and customs of the ancient Egyptians, allowed him to create a remarkably vibrant — if ultimately over-embellished — scene of ritual and revel.
It is worth noting that the setting of Bridgman’s picture would have been particularly resonant in 1902 – this was the year that the Aswan Low Dam was built by the British, threatening the monuments at Philae by changing the rise and fall of the surrounding Nile River.
This catalogue note was written by Emily M. Weeks, Ph.D.
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