Ancient Egyptian Revivals

Ancient Egyptian Revivals

Although Ancient Egypt has always influenced artists that had access to its artifacts, there are two periods in Western history when Ancient Egyptian art was very popular. These are known as “Egyptian Revival” or “Egyptomania”.

After Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, early 1800s
Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were fans of Ancient Egypt, but it was really Napoleon who started the early 1800s Egyptomania. Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt started in 1798 and ultimately ended in defeat by the British, but was nonetheless an inspirational boon to European and North American artists, furniture designers, and architects. In a brilliant move, Napoleon brought along a team of 160 scientists, scholars, and artists to document the wonders to be found in Egypt.

However, it took a long while for the public to learn of what the team saw. The product of the expedition, Description de l’Egypte (Description of Egypt) was published from 1809 to 1826.

In the 1800s, countless buildings, jewelry, furniture, and works of art were either heavily influenced by Ancient Egypt or just outright copies of surviving artifacts.

Settee designed by Thomas Hope (c. 1802)
Settee designed by Thomas Hope (c. 1802)

Dress (c.1819)
Dress (c.1819)

Egyptian Building, part of Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center (completed 1845)
Egyptian Building, part of Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center (completed 1845)

The First Baptist Church of Essex, Connecticut (1846)
The First Baptist Church of Essex, Connecticut (1846)

Attributed to Pottier and Stymus and Company (1870–75)
Attributed to Pottier and Stymus and Company (1870–75)

Enamel ring (1880)
Enamel ring (1880)

This Egyptian Revival didn’t actually end, because Ancient Egyptian artifacts were discovered throughout the 1800s, but was bolstered by the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922.

 
Tutankhamun’s Tomb, 1922
The bold lines and colors of Ancient Egyptian art were an essential aspect of Art Deco (see my post about Art Deco, too). The art movement had its origins in the early 1900s but really took off in the 1920s and stayed a popular art style through the 1940s. I’m not going to say that Ancient Egypt was the only inspiration for Art Deco, because other ancient art was involved, but it was certainly a huge influence.

Peery's Egyptian Theater (1923-4)
Peery’s Egyptian Theater (1923-4)

Dress (c.1925)
Dress (c.1925)

Dress (c.1925)
Dress (c.1925)

Necklace, ring, and bracelet set (1925)
Necklace, ring, and bracelet set (1925)

Brooch (c.1925)
Brooch (c.1925)

Part of the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum (1966)
Part of the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum (1966)

Further reading

  • A book that looks really awesome is Egyptian Revival: Ancient Egypt as the Inspiration for Design Motifs in the West by James Stevens Curl. I haven’t read it, but if anyone has, tell me about it in the comments!
  • The Development of Egyptian Revival Architecture in San Diego County by Helen McCormick Hobbs-Halmay is pretty neat.
  • Article: Old World, New World: Fashion is King.
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  • 2 thoughts on “Ancient Egyptian Revivals

    1. Hi! I’m glad that you enjoyed my journal article on Egyptian-Revival Art Deco in San Diego (CA). It was nice to read that you thought it was neat! I am the regional expert on Egyptian-Revival architecture (because nobody else give a flying leap). I was also the co-founder of the Art Deco Society of San Diego County (now defunct). I write/edit a member newsletter for the Congress of History of San Diego and Imperial Counties, and have (as a volunteer) for 20 years. I’m a retired journalist, photographer and editor. I’ve been an artists all my life. My mother was an artists, as was her mother. Art is life… I look forward to receiving your blogs. Helen Halmay, Lemon Grove, California

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