Henry Salt

Henry Salt

British, 1785 - 1827

Born in 1785 in Litchfield, Henry Salt was trained as a portrait-painter and first travelled to Egypt in the service of a nobleman (1802-1806). The son of a local doctor and trained as a painter of portraits, he studied at the Royal Academy under Farington and Hoppner. Henry Salt became associated with Egyptology as the employer of Belzoni, friend of Burckhardt, and the owner of three important collections of Egyptian Antiquities.

He first visited Egypt when he toured India and North Africa with the Viscount Valentia and George Annesley. He then returned to Africa in 1809 on a government mission to contact the King of Abyssinia, which took him 2 years to accomplish.

In 1815 he was appointed as British Consul-General in Alexandria. There he started forming an extensive collection of antiquities for sale to the British Museum. During his time as Consul-General, he sponsored many excavations in Egypt and Nubia, where he ended up acquiring many valuable antiquities for the British Museum, as well as adding to his own already immense collection. Through the help and services of Giovanni d'Athanasi and Giovanni Belzoni, he procured several important monuments from Thebes.

Salt employed Belzoni to remove a colossal granite bust of Rameses II known as the Young Memnon from the Ramesseum in 1816 that Salt presented to the British Museum the following year.

His first collection was acquired by the British Museum in 1823 after long negotiations. The second collection was then offered to the Louvre instead (sold 1825), a third collection was auctioned after his death in 1835. A fine Book of the Dead papyrus was acquired by Reuvens on that occasion. He married an Italian lady (who died prematurely with her daughter in 1824) and Salt died outside Cairo in 1827.

"Salt operated at a time when interest in Egypt and its antiquities was reaching a high level in Europe and when the desire to acquire objects for national collections as well as private ones was aided by a lax attitude towards antiquities on the part of Muhammad Ali's government."

Rivalry between the representatives of European powers resulted in the unofficial division of the country into private zones for exploitation, especially so with the competition between Salt's agents and those of the French consul-general Drovetti. On the heels of this wholesale frenzy of acquisition followed the efforts of scholarly expeditions such as those of Champollion, Lepsius, Wilkinson, Hay and others in the 1820s through 1840s to record the monuments remaining in Egypt.

In fairness, Salt also made use of his drafting skills to record monuments. His attempts at scholarly pursuits, however, were not taken seriously by his contemporaries and few of his drawings have survived or have been published.