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Egyptian Revival


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Elements of Ancient Egyptian architecture were found in Hellenistic and Roman architecture in Antiquity. After Egypt became part of the Roman Empire and Egyptian deities (especially the goddess Isis and her consort Osiris, whom the Greeks and Romans called Serapis) were venerated by the Romans the process accelerated: not only were many Egyptian artefacts, including obelisks, brought to Rome and re-erected to embellish Roman buildings, but countless objects in the style of Egyptian art were made in Europe. Ancient obelisks were again set up in Renaissance Rome, where they can be seen in several locations today, and huge numbers of Egyptian and Egyptianizing artefacts re-emerged to grace the collections in the Vatican and elsewhere. During the latter half of C18, Egyptian motifs began to intrigue designers in the West. Piranesi designed an ‘Egyptian’ interior for the Caffè degl'Inglesi, Piazza di Spagna, Rome (c.1768), which he published together with a number of fireplaces in an ‘Egyptian’ style, in Diverse Maniere d'adornare i Cammini (Different Ways of Decorating Chimneypieces, 1769). This work included illustrations of the Roman telamones and figure of Antinoüs from the Villa Adriana, Tivoli (all C2), bogus hieroglyphs, Apis bulls, various Nilotic motifs, and also corbelled pseudo-arches of stepped form which passed into Western artistic consciousness as ‘Egyptian’. At the time, many architects, influenced by French theorists such as Laugier, began to discard architectural ornament deemed to be inessential, and, prompted by a growing admiration for the primitive, explored the possibilities of simple, basic geometries that would bring clarity, severity, and integrity to their compositions. Ancient Egyptian forms such as battered rectilinear buildings, obelisks, and pyramids, were combined with cubes, spheres, etc., in the developing language of Neo-Classicism. C18 archaeological activity that encouraged a scholarly and accurate approach to Antiquity, especially the study of buildings in Rome, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Greece, Sicily, and Paestum, encouraged by Winckelmann among others, also turned to Egypt. The Napoleonic investigations of Egyptian architecture, published from 1802 by Denon and the Commission des Sciences et Arts d'Égypte from 1809 to 1829, did for Egyptian architecture what Stuart and Revett had done for Greek. Empire and Regency designs were permeated with Egyptianizing influences after the Franco-British campaigns in Egypt (1798–1801) and the subsequent division of information and objects: so great was the enthusiasm for Egypt that l'Égyptomanie (Egyptomania) played an enormous role in early C19 taste in both France and Britain.

The Egyptian style was used for several buildings in France, notably a series of fountains (e.g. Place du Châtelet, Paris (1807), while elsewhere the Egyptian Revival spawned progeny (P. F. Robinson's Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, London (1811–12), Canina's Egyptian Gate, Borghese Gardens, Rome (c. 1825–8), J. Haviland's ‘Tombs’ Gaol, NYC (1835–8), and the same architect's New Jersey State Penitentiary, Trenton (1843–6), the entrance-gates and lodges of Abney Park Cemetery, London (1840), by Hosking and Bonomi, and the last's Temple Mills, Marshall Street, Leeds, Yorks. (1842) are examples). Egyptianizing motifs are common in European and American design: they include battered square chimney-pots with Egyptian cornices, lotus-buds and leaves, obelisks, pyramids, and sphinxes. Battered towers resembling those flanking Egyptian temple pylons were ideally suited for suspension-bridges, while battered retaining-walls and dams often had sections derived from Ancient Egyptian precedents. Funerary architecture was often in the Egyptian style, especially in the period 1820–50. C20 Egyptology, including the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922, influenced a further revival of the Egyptian style that was spurred by the 1925 Paris exhibition in which Egyptian and Aztec archaeology influenced the burgeoning Art Deco style, though many elements were derived from Piranesi. More recently both Post-Modernism and Rational architecture have incorporated aspects of Egyptian architecture, and its potency remains undimmed.

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Subjects: Architecture — Art.


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