The Fascination of Egypt

The pyramids, pharaohs, culture and art of the Ancient Egyptians have created the most intense fantasy and the greatest cultural longing of modern times. The roots of this fascination for Egypt stretch right back to antiquity. Plato and Herodotus praised Egyptian culture and its artworks by comparison and contrast with Greek art. During the Greek and Roman rule over Egypt there was an active coming together of cultures, evidenced by the spolia brought back to Rome and the Roman provinces. Egyptian portraits became the models for Roman portrait art and early Christian mummy portraits that were widely distributed up to the fourth century AD. These displaced artworks from the land of the Nile opened up the possibility for the humanist, scholastic world in the Europe of the Renaissance and the Baroque to study Ancient Egyptian culture and become addicted to its fascination.

The fascination for Ancient Egypt was given its greatest, largest and most decisive thrust forward by the Egyptian expedition that took place from 1798 to 1801. The command had been given by Napoleon Bonaparte. His expeditionary army was comprised of 325 ships and 38,000 men. Although Napoleon Bonaparte’s campaign was a failure, he triggered an enthusiasm for Ancient Egypt throughout all of Europe. From 1809 to 1813 there appeared the “Description of Egypt”. This description of Egypt was made up of eleven large-scale volumes. Alongside the ten large text and illustrated volumes there was an accompanying atlas. For the first time the European public could acquire a comprehensive picture of Egypt by means of almost photographically precise drawings of its monuments and culture. A euphoria broke out regarding a culture that had been so completely unknown till that time. The Egypt craze penetrated all walks of life.

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