Egyptian Revival, a popular style in European and American decorative art in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is a remarkable phenomenon, which is characterized by the ubiquitous use of the motifs of Egyptian art. Various types of art, such as architecture, sculpture, furniture, interior design, and paintings, display this unique style. This paper reveals what historical events led to Egyptian Revival and how this art movement is manifested in architecture.
Before the nineteenth century, most of Europeans and Americans did not have sufficient knowledge with regard to ancient or even modern Egypt. The Bible was the only source of the information about this old land (Giguere, 2014). Immediately after the Egyptian Campaign of Napoleon Bonaparte, rich Egyptian culture became popular in the Western world. The First Egyptian Revival was connected with this event.
Bonaparte’s invasion of Egypt began in July 1798. For this purpose, he postponed the planned invasion of England and headed his army to Egypt. Nevertheless, the invasion was extraordinary whereas not only soldiers but also scholars and artists accompanied Napoleon Bonaparte. Baron Dominique Vivant Denon, an artist, recorded Bonaparte’s journey precisely and published illustrated notes of it in Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Egypte in 1802.
Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt initiated a new era of Egyptian studies (Brewer & Teeter, 2007). Scholars’ discoveries in Egypt were systematized and then published in nine-volume Description de l’Egypte, which provided the world with the authentic archeological findings and images of ancient monuments (Giguere, 2014). A vast amount of the books about Egypt became available in the United States.
Besides, Francois Champollion made a considerable contribution to understanding the ancient Egyptian civilization. He translated the hieroglyphics on the Rosetta Stone. Thus, all these discoveries revived the interest in the history of Egypt.
The cultural achievements of the Egyptian Campaign had a huge impact on Americans. They were fascinated by the land of pharaohs as well as became concerned about the best ways of expressing their national identity. Therefore, the country’s educated elite started fashioning a national heritage by borrowing suitable features from the ancient Egypt culture (Giguere, 2014).
In 1922, the Second Egyptian Revival began. It referred to the discovery the tomb of King Tutankhamun by Howard Carter. After this sensation, Egyptian motifs became part of Art Deco style.
The peculiarities of Egyptian architecture were represented in simplicity, massiveness, solidity, and grandeur. The immense columns were decorated with bud-shaped or bell-shaped capitals. Depictions of the bud, lotus, papyrus, palm-leaf, or combination of these ordinarily adorned the capitals. Obelisks, pyramids, hieroglyphs, and the Sphinx represented the central motifs of Egyptian art, which were incorporated into the European and American culture.
Egyptian art and architecture arose a wide range of emotions from fear to awe. The culture of ancient Egypt was associated with exoticism, mystery, and grandeur. Due to simple and strict forms, which are inherent in art and architecture of Egypt, Europeans and Americans applied them widely.
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Egypt was considered a symbol of antiquity as well as that of accomplishments in art and science. Thus, the specific features of Egypt Revival style were present in the ornamentation of schools and museums. The motifs of Egyptian art adorned courthouses and jails whereas they symbolized wisdom, law, and justice. Besides, Egyptian style was used extensively in funerary architecture, and it became associated with death and eternal life. Thus, Egyptian Revival movement manifested itself in public, private, and funerary architecture.
Numerous buildings in America are still standing and display the Egyptian Revival style. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Metropolitan Museum of Art demonstrate the Egyptian Revival motifs. They also contain collections of artifacts from ancient Egypt.
The Egyptian Theatre is located in Boise and reveals such Egyptian motifs as the truncated pyramids, which serve to form the massive columns, and the pillars with the depiction of lotus bud. The Lincoln Theatre was designed using Egyptian-related decorations.
Egyptian Revival designs were realized in the Odd-Fellows’ Hall in Philadelphia that impresses by its massiveness, the railway bridge at Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia, and the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond, “one of the grandest and monolithic of all Egyptian Revival buildings” (Curl, 2005, p. 316). The lotus-bud capitals, a traditional Egyptian motif, decorate the First Church of Bennington in Vermont. The Egyptian Revival style manifested itself in the Tomb Prison in New York, the Essex County courthouse in Newark, and the City Jail in Iowa.
The first American rural cemetery, which has the Egyptian-style gateway as a main entrance, was Mount Auburn near Boston. The Egyptian Revival for cemetery entrances and private memorials became popular. The portal to the Old Granary Burying Ground in Boston, designed by the architect Isaiah Rogers, includes stocky Egyptian-style pylons with the colonial mortality symbol of the winged hourglass on each one (Giguere, 2014). The Egyptian Revival gateway for the Jewish Touro Cemetery in Newport involves the Egyptian symbol of the winged orb.
In Europe, the revival of the Egyptian style manifested itself in buildings, halls, showrooms, factories, mausoleums, and cemetery lodges. The fascinating cemeteries of Pere-Lachaise and Montmartre in France have distinguished designs for individual tombs. The London Cemetery Company used the Egyptian Revival style, which is represented by massive columns and two guardian obelisks. Abney Park Cemetery in England includes a hieroglyphic inscription on solid-looking stone gate-lodges.
In Spain, some kinds of funerary architecture are present, as well. The Cemetery of San Lorenzo in Madrid, the General Cemetery of Valencia, and the Cementerio Britanico contain spectacular mausoleums. Several buildings in France, especially a series of fountains, have specific features of the Egyptian Revival style.
Historical events generated a popular in Europe and the United States Egyptian Revival style of art and architecture. The unknown culture of Ancient Egypt became available for Europeans and Americans after Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt. Scholars and artists, which accompanied Bonaparte, started exploring the antiquities of Egypt. All their discoveries were published. Moreover, these books were obtainable in Europe and America.
Artists and architects used the Egyptian motifs in their artworks. Hieroglyphs, pyramids, and obelisks were applied in different artistic media. Papyrus, lotus, and palm adorned the columns or capitals. Whereas Egypt was commonly associated with science, art, law, justice, death, and eternal life, the Egyptian Revival style was present in such buildings as theaters, museums, schools, courthouses, jails, and cemeteries. Many buildings included massive columns that were the main feature of the Ancient Egypt culture.
In Europe and the United States, many types of architecture display Egyptian Revival style. All of them present specific features of Egyptian culture. A big amount of cemeteries contains the gateways and mausoleums with Egyptian motifs. This extraordinary ancient culture continues to amaze and fascinate modern civilization. Thus, the Egyptian symbols enriched European and American decorative art.