Photo from the collection of Michael G. Wilson, courtesy of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art

To Frith, the graffiti scratched onto monuments by modern European travelers were just as appalling as the pillaging of archaeological sites. Frith wasn’t the first European traveler to be stunned at the disfigurement of temple walls: In 1850, French novelist Gustave Flaubert denounced the defacement as a “sublime persistence of stupidity.” Nowhere was this defacement more prominent than at the Ramesseum at Thebes, the ancient city whose ruins surround modern Luxor. Located on the west bank of the Nile, the Ramesseum served as the mortuary temple of Ramesses II (1279–1213 B.C.).