Machine for engraving skies and backgrounds

Nicolas-Jacques Conté1803

Musée des arts et métiers

Musée des arts et métiers
Paris, France

In 1803 Conté directed the publication of the studies undertaken by scholars and scientists during Napoleon Bonaparte’s Egyptian campaign from 1798 to 1801, in which several eminent scientific figures took part. Aware of the technical and financial difficulties involved in executing the plates, he devised a machine for engraving on copper that could inscribe more or less pronounced parallel lines, or gradations to suggest shading. Designed to rapidly and uniformly engrave ‘backgrounds’ and ‘skies’ and obtain homogenous tints, this machine achieved the necessary perfection in rendering atmospheric and architectural effects and bas-reliefs. The twenty-volume Description de l’Égypte was published between 1808 and 1822. In 1832 Claude Pouillet, the Conservatoire’s director, requested that the government loan a copy of the book to the institution’s library, where ‘this beautiful monument will not be a mere ornament but will have a real use’.


  • Title: Machine for engraving skies and backgrounds
  • Creator: Nicolas Jacques Conté, Antoine Clerc Gallet
  • Date: 1803
  • Date Created: 1803
  • Location: France
  • Provenance: Musée des arts et métiers
  • Contributor: Author: Marie-Sophie Corcy. English translation: David Wharry
  • Inventory number: Inv. 03054
  • Credits: © Musée des arts et métiers-Cnam/photo Sylvain Pelly

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