Egyptian style was a common
revival movement in the late 18th to mid-19th century.
Though it was a less popular form of ornamentation than
Neoclassicism or Gothic Revival, it had a
place in the decorative arts and architecture of the time,
particularly in America in the first half of the 19th century.
(William F. Gill, 1875)
Copying Egyptian forms was
nothing new. The Roman emperor Hadrian designed
part of his Tivoli villa in an Egyptian style in 130 BC
and there were various resurgences of interest in the art
of this country in Europe throughout the Common Era. A
more conscious revival began in the 1760s as part of a
general renewed awareness of historical styles. Giovani
Batista Piranesi was one of the major 18th century
architects and designers who used Egyptian decorations
for some of his interiors.
It was Napoleon's expedition to Egypt of 1789-99 that brought some of the most comprehensive information about the country into Europe. Napoleon hoped to gain military control of the area from the Turkish Empire in order to open up the trade route to the West Indies. The attempt was a failure, but he did, however, bring along scholars and artists who documented the journey and Egyptian culture, and collected artifacts as well. Probably their most significant find was the famous Rosetta Stone, which helped decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics. As a result of this expedition several books were published on Egyptian art and culture in the early 19th century. The most significant was the Description
de l'Égypte, a 21-volume set published between 1809 and 1828 that included lavish prints of Egyptian art and architecture. These publications were some of the first accurate sources the European public had for images of Egypt.
The use of Egyptian architectural style in the 19th century was especially popular for cemeteries and funeral monuments because many of the most well known Egyptian monuments, such as the Pyramids of Giza, had deathly associations. Designers replicated common forms in architecture like pyramids, columns, temples, sphinxes, and obelisks. The most famous American example of the obelisk is the Washington Monument.
Examples of book covers influenced by Egyptian Revival occur a bit later, starting about the 1850s. Many of the covers relate to the Egyptian subjects of the books' contents, but Egyptian design was also employed generally, particularly for other oriental subject matter (example, pbw01294 - Glimpses
into Chinese Homes, J.W. Hamilton, 1887).
Glimpses into Chinese Homes
(J. W. Hamilton, 1887)
The Papyrus of Ani
(G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1913 )
Pillar of Fire; or, Israel in Bondage
(Pudney and Russell, 1859)
as in architecture, book covers in this style often duplicated
some of the common building styles of the civilization,
such as the Sphinx or pyramid (see pba01259). Where there
was a picture of a person, he or she was drawn in the stylized,
flat, sideways position found in Egyptian papyrus scrolls
and relief sculpture (as on pbw01922). Another common symbol
was the winged disk, a heavenly symbol associated with
royalty and the god Horus (pba01259).
Harper and Brothers, 1907 (Decorative Designers)
were typical as well, and 19th century decoration books
such as Owen Jones' A Grammar of Ornament (1856) detailed
many of these. The stylized lotus blossom was a frequent
choice along with other abstract natural forms, like
the papyrus bundle column (as in pbw01294).
Some of the decorations in Eastlake style
have a somewhat Egyptian feel as well. Egyptian forms
continued to have an impact well into the 20th century. Art
Deco designers used Egyptian ornaments, and events
like the discovery of King Tut's tomb in 1922 continued
to awaken the public's imagination about the art and
culture of Egypt.
Search the PBO database
for Egyptian Revival
Carrott, Richard G. The Egyptian
Revival: Its Sources, Monuments and Meaning, 1808–
1858. Berkely: University of California Press, 1978.
Clayton, Peter. The Rediscovery of
Ancient Egypt: Artists and Travelers in the 19th
Century. London: Thames and Hudson, 1982.
Curl, James Stevens. The Egyptian
Revival: An Introductory Study of a Recurring Theme
in the History of Taste. Boston: G. Allen and Unwin, 1982.
McDowell, Peggy. The Revival Styles
in American Memorial Art. Bowling Green, OH:
Bowling Green State University Popular Press, c1994.
Pevsner, Nikolaus and S. Lang. "The Egyptian Revival." In From
Mannerism to Romanticism. Vol. 1 of Studies in Art, Architecture
and Design. Edited by Nikolaus
Pevsner. New York: Walker, 1968, pp. 212–48.
Wilton-Ely, John. "Egyptian Revival." Dictionary
of Art. Edited by Jane Turner. New
York: Grove, 1996. (online version is available at some colleges and universities)