Photo from Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Égypte, courtesy of the George Peabody Library of the Johns Hopkins University
In February 1799, Denon’s party reached Philae, just north of the Nile’s first cataract. The 51-year-old artist was exhausted yet predictably thrilled by this view of the sandstone temple of Isis, which remained in use from 380 B.C. to 300 A.D. Philae was a cult center for Isis—Osiris’s sister-wife and symbolic mother of the pharaoh. Today the site lies beneath the waters of Lake Nasser, but its temples were salvaged and reconstructed on a nearby island that was regraded and landscaped to resemble the original Philae.