Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Egyptomania: 2,500 years of Egyptomania

National Post (Geoffrey Clarfield)

During the Victorian era, Westerners were enchanted by biblical and ancient Greek tales of Egypt’s material magnificence and sophistication; and tantalized by the Pharaonic tombs of the pyramids, as well as the wall paintings of the newly excavated temples that had lain buried for centuries. At the time, a growing number of ancient objects that had survived the spade of the grave robber were slowly being uncovered by practitioners of the then-new field of archaeology.

The subsequent discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb marked the first time that the world had come face to face with the pure and undiluted material magnificence of the ruler of the most powerful kingdom of the ancient world. The event triggered a version of Egyptomania which has come to be known as Tutmania, a fascination with all things related to Egypt and which quickly permeated the world of fashion, jewellery, architecture, literature and film from the 1920s onward.

After some of the artifacts had been displayed in the Louvre in Paris, the art deco design movement became thoroughly Egyptianized, and took over high fashion in London and New York. Its influence can be clearly seen in Manhattan’s Chrysler Building. In the 1920s, you could buy Cartier clocks that imitated the gates of Luxor, drink brandy in an Egyptian-themed passenger lounge on your steamship or eat from plates with Egyptian designs. Women went to parties dressed in Egyptian-inspired dresses wearing jewels ornamented with scarabs and cobras and all the

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