OverviewJuly 4, 2011 by Jennifer
Egypt has exerted its influence on design around the world since the dawn of the pharaohs. The Greek writer Herodotus, exclaimed, “Concerning Egypt itself I shall extend my remarks to a great length, because there is no country that possesses so many wonders, nor any that has such a number of works which defy description.” Greek and Roman cultures were both influenced by Egypt. You might say that an Egyptian Revival of some sort has been going on for more than 2,000 years.
Despite this long-term interest in Egypt, Egyptian Revival as an influence on contemporary design is usually divided into three periods: 1809 – 1840, 1920s, 1970s. The first “revival” in Egyptian-influenced design came on the heels of Napoleon Bonaparte’s expedition to Egypt in 1798. Napoleon brought a number of scholars and scientists with him. They studied Egypt and, beginning in 1809, a series of books, “Description de l’Égypte,” were published. The 23-volume work, along with a number of other books, touched off wide-spread interest in all things Egyptian. This period of Egyptian Revival pre-dates celluloid purses. However, you will find sterling silver and beaded purses from very late in this period with Egyptian themes.
The third Egyptian Revival period came in the 1970s. From 1976 through 1979 the “The Treasures of Tutankhamun” exhibit toured the United States. The exhibit featured 55 objects from the tomb of Tutankhamun and included the boy-king’s solid gold funeral mask, a gilded wood figure of the goddess Selket, lamps, jars, jewelry, furniture, and other objects for the afterlife. This exhibition established the term “blockbuster exhibit” for museums around the world. Visitors waited up to 8 hours to view the exhibition at its various stops and more than 8 million people saw the exhibit.
While both the first and third Egyptian Revivals are interesting, the period of Egyptian Revival that had the greatest impact on the collectible and antique market happened during the 1920s. This Egyptian Revival surrounds the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922 by Howard Carter. The discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb happened to coincide with the advent of mass media – newspapers, newsreels and movies. The result was that the 1920s Egyptian Revival had an enormous impact on all aspects of design from architecture, fashion, interior design, product packaging and more. It influenced popular culture inspiring countless movies, books,pulps and comics. It also reached far more people than the 1809-1840 revival ever did.