Belgian expansionism and the making of Egyptology, 1830-1952

Gert Huskens: The Louvre's Belgo-French Auguste Parent collection

Musee Parent

This week, the Louvre Museum has launched its new online database. To showcase its potential, I would like to tell you about the history of the Belgo-French collection of short-time Belgian diplomat (Aimé) Auguste Parent.



A failed diplomatic career

As a son of Basile Parent, Belgian revolutionary and engineer-entrepeneur, Auguste Parent (1839-?) grew up in an environment providing all the means necessary to pursue a diplomatic career. Together with Pierre Schaken, Basile Parent developed the société Parent, Schaken, Caillet et Cie and succeeded in gaining a share of the emerging railroad industry in the north of France and Spain.

In 1857, Auguste Parent was nominated as 'legation secretary', the lowest rank in diplomacy. He served his first term at the Belgian legation in Portugal's capital Lissabon. Only a year later, he was promoted to the office of 'attaché de legation' and at the beginning 1863 Auguste Parent was transferred to The Hague as second class secretary. As the remark "services nuls" in his personnel file shows, he did not leave much of an impression.However, Parent's career took a U-turn in the summer of the same year. He was offered a job as administrator at the Compagnie Générale Maritime de Belgique. The Belgian ministry of Foreign Affairs granted him an indefinite leave and the permission to sail to the Orient. His job was to explore the area's markets and to expand Belgium's commercial presence. Upon his return, his report was published in Belgium's Recueil Consulaire.

Parent, Auguste. ‘Égypte - Rapport Secrétaire de Légation de S. M. Ie Roi Des Belges’. Recueil Consulaire, 18 April 1865.
Parent, Auguste. ‘Égypte - Rapport Secrétaire de Légation de S. M. Ie Roi Des Belges’. Recueil Consulaire, 18 April 1865.


Turn towards cultural life

Shortly after, he resigned from his diplomatic position. In the meantime, Auguste Parent moved seems to have acquired or developed a taste for culture. He moved to Paris and in 1866, he published a book about the Siege of Yodfat during the First Roman-Jew War in 67 AD. Two years later, another publication heralding the Jew Uprising titled Machaerous appeared.

More importantly, because this is where the Louvre Museum reenters the picture, Parent started to assemble a collection of antiquities ought to be displayed at 'the Musée Parent' in Paris. The museum's first (and last) catalog was published in 1867. Most of the objects seem to be coming from either Sidon in current-day Lebanon or Camirus on Rhodes. The latter corresponds with some scarse information we have on the links Parent's had with Auguste Salzmann's 1867 excavations on the Rhodes site. One can notice for example a beautifully decorated oenochoë-type vase, an amphora depicting Hercules  and an octopus-themed Bronze age rhyton (drinking cup).

Courtesy of the Louvre Museum

The Sidon artifacts include some Roman-era inscriptions, a stèle fragment and several statues of lions.

Courtesy of the Louvre Museum


Unanswered questions

While the Louvre database allows us to easily access the former Auguste Parent collection, questions about the provenance, acquisition and dispersion still remain unanswered. What happened for example with the terracottas he had from the Egyptian El Qantara site? Hopefully further research on this enigmatic diplomat-collector can enclose about the whereabouts of these objects.

Want to have a glimpse yourself at the riches of the Parent Collection in the Louvre Museum? Have a look over here!

Gert Huskens -

25 Mar 2021 (9:56)