Stoppelaëre House at Luxor
Although never actually used as a dig house persé; it’s style and prominent place on a hilltop, just up of Castle Carter II makes the house deserve it’s place among the dig houses.
Driving on Luxor’s west bank Just after turning towards the Valley Of the Tombs of the Kings, reveals a magnificent building on top of a ridge.
Besides the misconception that it is Howard Carter’s “Home away from home”, Castle Carter, there are also some discrepancies concerning the house’s original occupant.
With this report, we will try to take away all of these inconstancies, in order to give you an accurate account of this so-called “Stoppelaëre House” and it’s first occupant, the rather illusive Alexandre Stoppelaëre.
About the house.
The house was built around 1950, just after (the first) new Qurna was built.
Designed by one of Egypt’s greatest architects, Hassan Fathy. Fathy designing the house came about as a result of his acquaintance with the archaeologist/restorer Alexandre Stoppelaëre.
Actually, Stoppelaëre House is not one, but two houses. It is an ingenious combination of a site office and a private residence for the archaeological director. It is divided into two by a central courtyard, thus assuring privacy for both areas. Its positioning at the top of a cliff gives the house a commanding presence.
Before the house was actually built, a series of preliminary drawings and sketches were made, all of them not to the satisfaction of Stoppelaëre, until the current layout was drawn. (see right)
“The Stoppelaëre house, which dates from the year after (the first) New Qurna was completed, was designed as both a guest house for the Department of Antiquities and the headquarters and apartment of Dr. Alexander Stoppelaëre who was the chief restorer of the Department at that time. The architect’s drawings of the house, which went through several revisions, all convey the difficulty of combining these two diverse entities into one, showing how the architect was struggling with the duality of functions involved.
The first scheme he attempted uses a square plan to group both sectors around two perfectly balanced parallel courtyards that are divided by a bisecting wall. The demands of a ridge-like, linear site, however, which is strategically located at the summit of a step ridge overlooking the main entrance into the Valley of the Kings and Queens at Luxor, eventually forced the opening up of the plan into an elongated rectangle.
A sky-lit gallery, of a kind that first appeared in the Hamid Said house, is used to join both sides of the residence, and the bisecting wall of the original concept finally emerges as a fully expressed buttress in the finished building, effectively separating the main entrance and its garden from the private quarters of Dr. Stoppelaëre.
In spite of the fact that no “as-built” drawings for this project exist, the small collection of initial sketches that have survived provide a rare insight into the creative thought processes of the architect, and show how actual site conditions began to inform a beginning design idea. The photographs of the actual building are equally important in that they include interior views of both the rooms and the courtyards. As is the case with so many of Fathy’s surviving works today, access into the Stoppelaëre house is now very restricted, which gives these interior views added significance.”
There is a proper plan of the house in the book (fig. 2) Legend is as follows:
Different elements are accommodated with seeming ease around a central courtyard: an articulated gallery (shown by a row of four roof-lights, centre right of the plan) joins the two sides of the house – the site office is on the left, the residential space on the right.”
One of the characteristics of his architecture is the use of “stepped squinches” to bind the domes (which are round) to their square base. These squinches are used for each of the four domes of the house.
Today (August 2014), the house is not in use. There are plans under development to restore and reinstate the house.
About Alexandre Stoppelaëre
- Full Name: Alexandre Marie Jean Baptiste Stoppelaëre
- Place and date of birth: St. Paul-de-Fenouillet (France) May 15. 1890
- Place and date of death: Issy-les-Molineaux (France) April 13. 1978
- Father Jean Baptiste Simon Louis Stoppelaëre
- Mother Marie Christine Antoinette Rives
In general, there are two things wrong , when one looks for references to Alexandre Stoppelaëre. The first is the spelling of his family name, which is often put down as Alexander Stoppelaere, while the actual spelling of his name should be Alexandre Stoppelaëre.
The second one is Mr. Stoppelaëre’s nationality; although from Belgian descent, he is French, not Belgian. This fact is proven, beyond a doubt, by his birth certificate (fig.3 ) which is shown below.
The certificate reads:
N°38 Birth of STOPPELAËRE Alexandre, Marie, Jean, Baptiste – 15 May (1890)
Year eighteen hundred ninety, May sixteenth at 9 am, in front of us, Languine Clement, Mayor, Officer of the Registry Office of the municipality of Saint-Paul, administrative center of Perpignan, county of Pyrénées Orientales, appeared Mr. Stoppelaëre, Jean, Baptiste, Simon, Louis, Indirect Taxes clerk, aged twenty six, living in Montblanc, county of Hérault, who declared us that yesterday at 7 am, Rives, Marie, Christine, Antoinette, his spouse, no profession, aged twenty two years and eight months, gave birth in the house of her father Rives, Alexandre, situated rue François Arago, to a boy that he presents us and declares to give him the first names of Alexandre, Marie, Jean, Baptiste.
This presentation and the statements have been done in the presence of Sir Rives Alexandre, aged sixty five and Lady Rives Léonce, aged thirty three, both merchants, staying in Saint-Paul; in front of the father and the witnesses they sign with us after the reading of this text.
Other mentioning on the certificate:
- Married in Paris XIVth district, on November twenty fifth, nineteen hundred and twenty two, with Elise Marie Albertine Roux.
[Registered in] December nineteen hundred and twenty two – The Mayor – [Signed]
- Married in Issy-les-Moulineaux (Hauts de Seine) on March tenth, nineteen hundred and fifty nine with Claire Marie Louise GILBERT – The Mayor – [Signed]
- Deceased in Issy-les-Moulineaux (Hauts de Seine) on April thirteenth, nineteen hundred and seventy eight – The Mayor – P. Gandou
It is not to say with 100% certainty, how Mr. Stoppelaëre pursued his professional life. Besides the birth certificate, no school- or other records have remained in St. Paul (although we will keep on searching).
If anything he was an artist and restorer of art, hence this quote:
“Alexandre Stoppelaere was a French artist. In 1938 he went to Egypt to give a series of seminars on painting techniques and restoration. Because of WWII het was mobilized by the French Army and stationed in the middle East.”
After the war, he was put in charge of the restoration of the Theban Tombs, until 1952. In 1947 he wrote an article on Theban Tomb painting in Valeurs (No. 7-8), called “Introduction à la peinture thébaine”.
At one time or another, Stoppelaëre lived together or was married to the wealthy Parisian, Leonie Ricou, who in the years 1910, was opening her house to friends, mainly artists (Picasso, Modigliani, Brancusi…)
There is no mention of any marriage to Ricou on his birth certificate, so we cannot be sure they were married. The phrase saying that Alexandre Stoppelaëre was the “second husband of Leonie Ricou” might be wrong.
(Note (28 July 2014): As it turned out: Miss Ricou was born under a different, more familiar name. This name will be revealed in our article update of December 2014)
As Stoppelaëre’s first job was painter, it is not surprising that he met Léonie, probably in the 1925’s.
In 1928, Léonie Ricou intended to move to Stoppelaëre’s house in Brussels and sent a famous statue called “Oiseau dans l’espace” (fig. 4), made by Brancusi in 1923 to a safe of the “Banque de Bruxelles”, before moving to this town. She died immediately after her move (1930) and left the statue to Stoppelaere.
He sold it for an unknown price to a private collector in 1937. The statue was sold lately (2009 – Christie’s) for the huge sum of 27 million dollars.
This statue story might partly explain why Stoppelaere could suffice himself by staying several years in Egypt with probably a small or no salary!
Besides being an artist and a restorer, Stoppelaëre wrote two important works:
- “Dégradations et restaurations des peintures murales égyptiennes” ( ASAE 40, pp.941-950)
- “ Introduction à la peinture thébaine” – extract from the magazine « Valeurs », n°7-8, published in Alexandria in 1947.
There is a recession of this document in CdE XXIII – n°45-46 – April 1948 – p. 89:
“Cette simple plaquette est rédigée par un homme qui a vu longuement, étudié en spécialiste, et qui aime en artiste les riches productions picturales de la nécropole des fonctionnaires thébains. C’était à lui de s’adresser au grand public qui désire comprendre ce qu’il voit et retirer quelque fruit de la visite des tombes. Nous ferons à l’auteur l’amical reproche de s’en être tenu – un peu trop modestement – à l’œuvre très documentée qui lui a servi de base : Stilentwickelungder thebanischen Beamtengräber, de M. Wegner. L’introduction à la peinture thébaine aurait probablement gagné plus de feu et plus de conviction à éviter les généralisations trop poussées. Nous regrettons aussi que les citations renvoient le lecteur aux ouvrages des débuts de l’égyptologie que d’autres, plus actuels, peuvent remplacer dans cet office d’information.
Nous ne pouvons, enfin, être tout à fait de l’avis que « au début de la XVIIIe dynastie, l’art, et en particulier la peinture des tombes, est le prolongement de celui de la XIIe dynastie. Pourrait-on vraiment établir un rapport d’inspiration directe dans la manière de composer et d’exécuter la tombe de Khnoumhotep à Beni Hassan et celle d’Anena à Thèbes ?
N’importe, ce monde merveilleux de la peinture thébaine a, dans M. Stoppelaëre, un introducteur choisi. Son travail dans la nécropole, depuis plusieurs années et dont nos lecteurs ont eu quelque idée par la Chronique (n°42, juillet 1946, p.192 = trip in Egypt and meeting with Stoppelaëre; n°43, janvier 1947, p.113 = recession of ASAE 40) fait de lui un véritable spécialiste de l’œuvre pharaonique. » [signed by Marcelle Werbrouck].
In January 1929, (definitely before moving to Brussels), Stoppelaëre was giving some lessons of drawing and painting, with Jean Marchand, at the “Académie Moderne – 86 rue Notre Dame des Champs” in Paris (1)
In a letter from Stoppelaëre to Isha de Lubicz, he is giving his address in Paris: 41, rue Hallé, Paris XVIe in the year 1954. (Schwaller de Lubicz: L’oeuvre au rouge)
There is a painting representing Alexandre Stoppelaëre, made by the painter Conrad Kickert (Dutch painter in Montparnasse), his friend, numbered “Opus 37-17” and made in 1937(2).
It is interesting to note the comment given on this web page about Stoppelaëre, as it is giving information on his views within the “Luxor Group”, setting him aside of the general tradition of Egyptologists:
“Anticipation surprenante, car ni ses relations, ni rien dans le passé de Stoppelaëre ne le destinait à cet emploi [Restoration Director of the Egyptian Antiquities], sauf sa considérable culture. Toutefois, le portrait n’a pas une force prophétique suffisante pour indiquer qu’à l’arrivée de Neguib, puis de Nasser, Stoppelaëre serait contraint comme tous les occidentaux, de faire ses bagages sans être autorisé à transmettre ses découvertes. Il eut sans cela instruit ses successeurs égyptiens du fait que la construction du haut barrage d’Assouan, légitime ou pas, ne pouvait pas épargner le temple d’Abou-Simbel. Le démontage pierre par pierre dudit temple et sa reconstruction au-dessus de la retenue du Nil, une prouesse ruineuse, devait ôter à l’édifice tout intérêt, selon lui, car sa signification se trouvait dans le rapport de chaque pierre, de chaque ornement, avec les coordonnées du lieu d’origine et avec les astres. ».
This last saying is partly true, regarding the position of the sun. But for the rest?
In “Comptes-rendus des séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres », vol. 91, n°3, pp. 524-525 (1947)”, one can read that, following the degradations of 1937, the Antiquities Service has decided in 1946-47 to renovate several tombs and asked Stoppelaëre to do the work; we know that he worked in following tombs: Menna, Rekhmiré, Kherouef and Nefertari. This is confirmed also in CdE vol. 22, n°44, juillet 1947 (3).
There is a text in “Nouveautés archéologiques” vol. 31 – 1954 – p.382 that says :
“M. A. Stoppelaëre et la section des restaurations du Service des Antiquités ont consolidé et nettoyé la première salle de la tombe de Rekhméré et presque achevé la mise en état du grand couloir. » Ainsi sera-t-il bientôt permis d’apprécier à sa juste valeur l’ensemble de ce chef-d’œuvre de la peinture égyptienne.“
This seems to indicate that Stoppelaëre was still active for the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation in 1954…this is in contradiction with the information he had to leave after the revolution in 1952, and goes in the direction of Mekhitarian saying he left only in 1957 during the Suez canal war…(4)
Stoppelaëre did have some influential friends; among them Schwaller de Lubicz and Lucie Lamy; he also worked with Alexandre Varille (Egyptologist) and Clement Robichon (Archaeologist and architect) who worked for the IFAO.
Schwaller, Lamy, Varille and Stoppelaëre were called the “Luxor Group”, naming an association of friends fond of Egyptology but aside the general views on the philosophy of ancient Egyptians.
Arpag Mekhitarian mentions in his book “La misère des tombes thébaines” (Fondation Égyptologique Reine Élisabeth, Brussels 1994) that Stoppelaere was in holiday in 1956 when the Suez Canal events forced the Egyptian Government not to renew his contract (also valid for Étienne Drioton). A search showed that in fact Drioton was not renewed in 1952 after the Egyptian Revolution.
The same probably happened to Stoppelaere. Mekhitarian further indicated that Alexander went back to Paris to pursue his job of paintings restoration. Stoppelaere offered to Mekhitarian some papers and three envelopes containing 71 photographs of paintings scenes taken in the years 1940’s from Luxor tombs.
Some of these photographs were definitely taken in the Egyptian Cairo Museum because in one of the envelopes, a word in Arab said “46 photos of pieces taken out of tombs, with the wish to send these to M. Stoppelaere in Luxor, on order from the chief Curator of the museum” (date 2.5.1950). This was clearly done, as Stoppelaere could offer these to Mekhitarian. This series of 71 photographs have constituted the base of the abovementioned book.
The pieces themselves seem to come from TT38 (Djeserkaraséneb), TT181 (Nebamon and Ipouky) and TT217 (Ipouy)…but are lost for the time being. Interestingly, some of these pieces could be in private hands, which might indicate some of these pieces were smuggled out of the Cairo Museum…
- Raymond Betz, for his invaluable help with the biography and various references to Mr. Stoppelaëre and the house, as well as the translation of the Birth Certificate. In fact, 80% of the texts are written by Raymond.
- Stephen Urgola, Conchita Añorve-Tschirgi, Philip Croom, Salima Ikram (all from the American University in Cairo), for their help with the sketches of the Stoppelaere House,
- Steele, James. 1989. The Hassan Fathy Collection. A Catalogue of Visual Documents at the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. Bern, Switzerland: The Aga Khan Trust for Culture, 19.