As a dominant power in the Mediterranean region and the Nile Valley for much of the second millennium BCE, Egypt became a strong cultural influence on its neighbors during the first millennium BCE. The extent to which ancient Egypt continues to fascinate and influence Western civilization is astounding; this fascination and its expression are known as Egyptomania.

The ancient Greeks and Romans were enthralled by the age of Egypt's pyramids, temples, and hieroglyphic inscriptions, as well as its multitude of deities—the human, animal, and human-animal combinations. Both societies even adopted elements of pharaonic culture, in particular the worship of Isis, to whom temples were built in the Greek port of Piraeus by the fourth century BCE and in Rome's seaport, Ostia, by the third century BCE. By the first century BCE, Egyptomania had become a Roman fashion: frescoes showing Nile scenes decorated houses and fantasy Egyptian pleasure gardens featured a Nile setting with Egyptian statues (genuine where possible, local copies otherwise). The Egyptian-style buildings and the animals portrayed on the mosaic floor of the first-century BCE temple of Fortuna at Praeneste (present-day Palestrina, Italy) evidence the growing mystique of Egypt in Rome.

With Egypt's conquest by the Roman Octavian in 30 BCE, the flow of Egyptian objects (including obelisks) into Rome increased dramatically. Most came from sites in Lower Egypt and represented the art of the twenty-ninth dynasty through the Ptolemaic period. Imported works of art, in turn, influenced artists in Rome, some of whom were originally from Egypt. Those artists produced Egyptian-style sculptures to meet popular demand. Although some of their creations were faithful imitations, others were awkward pastiches of Egyptianized elements. One of the best known is the first-century CE Mensa Isiaca, a silver-and-gold-inlaid bronze table top that depicts a host of Egyptian deities with imitation hieroglyphs that may have come from an Isis sanctuary. Rediscovered in 1537, the figures on the Mensa Isiaca long served as models for Western artists.

Cults of Egyptian deities, particularly Isis, were popular throughout the Roman Empire. Rome's Isaeum Campense complex, rebuilt after a fire by the emperor Domitian (r. 81–96 CE), included a dromos, serapeum, and obelisks, as well as a temple to Isis. That complex remained an important cult center throughout the imperial era, and its ruins became a major source in Europe for both Egyptian and Roman-Egyptianized sculptures, from the thirteenth century CE. Rome also boasted several pyramid tombs, and the proportions of Gaius Cestius' pyramid (c. 12 BCE), the only one to survive, became the model for later European pyramids.

Rome's greatest Egyptomaniac was undoubtedly the emperor Hadrian (r. 117–138 CE), whose friend Antinous drowned in the Nile River during their visit to Egypt; he was later deified by Hadrian. The gardens of Hadrian's villa at Tivoli (near Rome) featured an extravagant Egyptianized section, the Canopus, which contained a miniature Nile, many statues, and at least one temple to a variety of Egyptian deities, including an Egyptianized Antinous. Made in the classical style, his statues were shown wearing an Egyptian kilt and the nemes-headdress. These statues became a model for Europeans depicting Egyptians throughout the Renaissance and even into post-Napoleonic times, when the distinction between Egyptian and Egyptianized sculpture was widely recognized.

In Egypt, Christianity eventually superseded the older religious cults, which were finally banned by the emperor Justinian in 553 CE. Yet the influence of Egypt—particularly the Isis cult—on Christianity cannot be denied; not only does the pose of the Madonna and Child echo figures of Isis holding her son Horus on her knee but the cult of the Virgin Mary also absorbed many of Isis' attributes and titles.

With the spread of Islam out of Arabia and the arrival of Islamic forces in 641 CE, Egypt became isolated from Europe and entered into Western ideology as an unknown, mysterious, and fabulous realm, and remained so for centuries. In Rome, a modest revival of antiquarian interest began in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, generated by local discoveries of Roman, Egyptian, and Roman-Egyptianized remains at some construction sites. Not until the Renaissance did a real interest in ancient Egypt begin, driven in part by the fifteenth-century rediscovery and publication of the works of ancient writers, including those of the Greek historian Herodotus. Among the most important were a group of Greek texts (probably created in Alexandria in the fourth to fifth centuries CE) that purported to be written by Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus, who was identified as a contemporary of the biblical Moses and also the Egyptian god Thoth (Hermes). The Hermetic texts, including the Hori Apollonius Hieroglyphica, which “explained” hieroglyphs symbolically, were of great significance to those seeking to link Christian doctrine to Egypt—then perceived as the major source of all ancient knowledge and philosophy.

In the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, scholars began cataloging and describing ancient monuments in Rome and throughout Italy, but the distinction between Egyptian or Egyptianized monuments and antiquities in general was not recognized until the late sixteenth to early seventeenth century, when the first books dealing specifically with Egyptian monuments in Rome were published. The hieroglyphs on the monuments were usually ignored or rendered fancifully, if at all. Most scholars then assumed that hieroglyphs were not a written language but were symbols that represented eternal truths; their attempts at translation focused on mystical, not philological, meaning. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Egyptomania became a European fashion once again, primarily in Italy. Popes Pius II (r. 1458–1464) and Sixtus V (r. 1585–1590) reerected several obelisks in Rome. Pyramids and obelisks (often confused with one another, both being called pyramids) and other Egyptian elements were used in paintings and room decorations. A spectacular example is the Borgia apartments in the Vatican, decorated for Pope Alexander VI (r. 1492–1503). Alexander's claim of descent from the Egyptian deity Osiris emphasized the broadening of outlook of the Renaissance, which made it culturally possible to recognize ancient sources for various elements of Christian thought and doctrine.

To the Renaissance Humanists seeking order in the universe, Egypt (as revealed by the Hermetic texts in particular) became not only the source of wisdom and magic, but also of many skills. Freemasonry began to develop from a craft guild to a semisecret society that traced the origins of the stone mason's craft, geometry, and architecture to Egypt. An interest in the Hermetic tradition and the Kabbalah (a Jewish mystical tradition) led to the start of Rosicrucianism, in the late sixteenth century. Athanasius Kircher, a Jesuit living in Rome from the mid-1600s, fostered this interest through his writings on many Egyptological subjects, including occult and mystical topics. He was also among the first to try to copy hieroglyphs accurately, and he amassed a huge collection of objects that became the first museum dedicated solely to Egyptian and Egyptianized artifacts. As awareness of Egypt and its monuments spread in Europe, Egyptian architectural elements began to appear in diverse settings. Obelisks and pyramids were not uncommon as funerary monuments, and sphinxes or lions often supported a sarcophagus or a tomb. As early as 1530, two female figures similar to Hadrian's Antinous model flanked a doorway at the palace of Fontainebleau, near Paris, whose gardens included a number of female sphinxes. By the mid-1600s, Bernini was designing elaborate bases for obelisks (e.g., the elephant base for a small obelisk in the Piazza della Minerva in Rome), and pyramidal tombs on the Cestius model for various popes. In France, Louis XIV's (r. 1643–1715) finance minister, Nicolas Fouquet, was acquiring Egyptian and Egyptianized antiquities for his palace, Vaux le Vicomte, and the king included many Egyptian-style objects (mainly sphinxes and obelisks) in his gardens at Versailles, setting the style for all Europe.

The exploration of Egypt remained sporadic until the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. The first modern map of Egypt was produced by a French Jesuit, Claude Sicard, in the 1720s. The most influential eighteenth-century travelers were Richard Pococke, an Englishman who visited Egypt in the 1730s, and Frederick Norden, a Dane who ventured as far south as Derr, in Nubia, in 1737. The publications of their travels remained for years the main sources of accurate information on Egypt. During that same period, Bernard Monfaucon's ten-volume study of antiquities was one of the first to analyze rationally the Egyptian and Egyptianized antiquities in Europe, shorn of mystical interpretations. (Johann Fischer von Erlach's more fanciful reconstructions of Egyptian monuments, however—published in French, German, and English by 1725—were also influential.)

Broadening knowledge of Egyptian art and architecture, although still drawn mainly from works in Europe, and those particularly in Rome, influenced all areas of eighteenth-century thought, from the philosophy of the Enlightenment to the Romantic movement, Neoclassicism, and Freemasonry. Architects such as Etienne-Louis Boullée saw the clean lines, pure forms, and monumentality of Egyptian monuments as expressions of the “sublime”—suitable for buildings that were intended to convey a sense of awe. To the Romantics, mystic Egypt was an ideal source of inspirational gloom. From mid-century onward, Egyptian traits began to proliferate in the decorative arts, painting, literature, the theater, architecture (domestic and funerary), and landscaping. In England, Josiah Wedgwood began producing Egyptian-style ceramic wares as early as 1768. An increased use of Egyptian decoration in Masonic lodges and of Egyptian elements in Masonic ritual also dates from that time.

Egyptian elements, however, were frequently mixed with classical or other stylistic elements. One of the first to attempt a coherent Egyptian style was the Italian interior designer Giambattista Piranesi; his Diverse maniere d'adornare i cammini (1769), best known for its Egyptian fireplaces that combined elements from many sources, also included drawings for two walls of the Caffé degli Inglesi in Rome, the first thoroughly Egyptianized room design that was actually executed. Other rooms soon followed throughout Europe. Architects created obelisks for gardens, public squares, and memorials, and they designed pyramid tombs, some with Greek porticos. Many were built on the Cestius model although the Giza pyramids had been well published by mid-century.

In the late 1700s, Egyptian themes became increasingly popular in literature and on the stage, particularly in opera, a popularity that was to last through the nineteenth century. Some works, including the play by Tobias von Gebler, Thamos, König in Ägypten (with incidental music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart [K345], written 1773–1780) and Mozart's opera Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute, 1791) were steeped in the symbolic traditions of Freemasonry. Other operas, such as Nephté (Paris, 1789) and La Morte di Cleopatra (Bologna, 1792) used Egypt for their exotic settings.

When Napoleon Bonaparte led his French troops and band of scholars (the savants) to Egypt in 1798, interest in things Egyptian was already high. Baron Dominique-Vivant Denon's Voyages dans la Basse et la Haute Egypte pendant les campagnes du général Bonaparte (1802) and the expedition's multivolume Description de l'Egypte, which began to appear in 1809, supplied relatively accurate information for the first time on many aspects of Egyptian history and civilization. A full-fledged Egyptian revival was soon underway, but not without some political overtones. For the French, the Egyptian style represented France's rediscovery of and triumph over Egypt; for the English, it signified their conquest of Egypt and the French.

During the nineteenth century, the first of the scientific Egyptologists undertook serious exploration. Champollion deciphered hieroglyphs in 1822, proving that they could be read like any other language. With this contribution began the demystification of Egyptian civilization. The objects brought home by the Royal Prussian Expedition (1842–1845) led by Karl Lepsius and by Belzoni, Drovetti, and Salt, among others, formed the basis of museum collections and placed before the public a wide range of ancient Egyptian artifacts from all eras. Publications such as Lepsius's twelve-volume Denkmäler aus Ägypten und Äthiopien (1849–1859), Owen Jones's Grammar of Ornament (1856), and Prisse D'Avennes's two-volume L'Histoire de l'Art Egyptien, d'après les Monuments


Egyptomania. Antwerp Zoo's Elephant House (1855–1856), with readable hieroglyphic inscriptions created for the bulding. (Photograph by M. E. McKercher)

(1878–1879) exerted a wide influence on all areas of the arts well into the twentieth century. Prints made from the David Roberts paintings of his 1838 visit to Egypt continue to define Egyptian monuments for many.

The various international expositions of the nineteenth century, created to vaunt the achievements of participating countries, also fostered Egyptomania by including a variety of “ancient Egyptian” monuments (and sometimes actual artifacts) among their exhibits. In 1854, the Egyptian Court, designed by the English architect, Owen Jones and the Egyptologist Joseph Bonomi Jr., for the Crystal Palace Exposition in London, attempted to reproduce Egyptian monuments, design, and color accurately. Middle Kingdom jewelry discovered by the Egyptologist Auguste Mariette and displayed in the 1867 Temple Egyptien, which he designed for the Exposition Universel in Paris, inspired many jewelers. The inscriptions on the obelisks at the 1893 International Columbian Exposition in Chicago lauded both Ramesses II and U.S. President Grover Cleveland.

The nineteenth century's last Egyptomania binge occurred in the 1870s and 1880s, spurred by the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869; the opera Aida (story by Auguste Mariette, music by Giuseppe Verdi) written to celebrate the opening of the Cairo Opera House in 1869 but first performed in 1871; and by the erection in New York (1869) and London (1878) of actual ancient obelisks. While full-blown Egyptomania declined by the turn of the century, it never really disappeared, but strongly influenced Art Nouveau and Art Deco and remained one of the many themes in Western culture.

Egyptian motifs were particularly evident in nineteenth-century furniture, interior design, and the decorative arts. The products and publications of Charles Percier and Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine in France and those of Thomas Hope (whose London house incorporated Egyptian designs into both furniture and decor), George Smith, and Charles Tatham in England helped popularize Egyptian styles worldwide. The basic furniture forms of the period, however, tended to be still classically inspired and were often based on pre-Napoleonic design and cabenetry sources; yet candelabra, clocks, statuettes, and jewelry all developed Egyptian manifestations. Wedgwood's Egyptian-style china may be the best known ceramic ware, but porcelain factories throughout Europe produced Egyptianized coffee sets and other goods. The Sèvres porcelain factory's Egyptian dessert service is perhaps the most elaborate, with each plate featuring a different scene from Denon's 1802 book, while the extraordinary centerpiece also drew on the Description de l'Egypt's preliminary drawings of temples at Philae, Edfu, Dendera, and Luxor. The first set (1808) was presented to Russia's Tsar Alexander I. The second set (1811–1812), made for and rejected by France's Empress Josephine, was later given to the Duke of Wellington and is now in Apsley House, London.

A vogue for Egyptian jewelry for both women and men began in the 1850s and continued well into the twentieth century. Jewelry design incorporated many Egyptian-style elements; scarabs and cartouches became particularly popular. Sphinx supports, lotus friezes, and other Egyptian elements appeared on all manner of furniture from 1865 onward. Mantelpiece sets with an Egyptian-style clock and pair of vases or obelisks were popular, as were statues, jardinieres, and other ornaments by noted manufacturers.

Throughout the nineteenth century, authors, composers, and stage designers acknowledged Egypt's growing appeal. Karl Friedrick Schinkel's 1816 sets for Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, with their mix of fact and fantasy, evoked mystic Egypt and influenced stage design for decades. Gioachino Rossini's 1818 opera Mosè in Egitto and its 1827 version for the Paris Opera were popular, as were the many productions of Die Zauberflöte, although operatic Egyptomania perhaps peaked with Verdi's Aida. While some stage works, such as Aida, strove for a measure of archaeological or historical accuracy, others merely capitalized on the appeal of exotic, mysterious Egypt. In her 1890 portrayal of Cleopatra, for example, Sarah Bernhardt was explicitly a seductress. One of the earliest novels to be set in ancient Egypt was Thomas Moore's The Epicurean (1825), but later authors also saw the possibility of Egyptian themes. The historical novels of Théophile Gauthier and Georg Ebers were reprinted well into the twentieth century. Characterizing Egypt as a land of dark magic gained popularity, as reflected in Arthur Conan Doyle's Lot No. 249 (1892), whose reanimated, malevolent mummy later became a Hollywood staple.

Architecturally, early nineteenth-century Egyptomania was generally confined to the exteriors of buildings and to pylon gateways of varying archaeological accuracy. The cast-iron gate to Tsarskoye Selo in Saint Petersburg, built for Tsar Alexander I from 1827 to 1830, for example, is based on pylons that were shown in the Description de l'Egypte. Commercial buildings also made use of exotic Egyptian elements to attract customers. William Bullock's Egyptian Hall on Piccadilly Circus, London (1812), with its cavetto cornices, sphinxes, torus moldings, and pylonshaped window frames and doors influenced later buildings in England. Appropriately, in 1821–1822, it housed London's first major exhibition of genuine Egyptian antiquities. In an entirely different style is the decoration of a building on the Place du Caire, Paris (1828), whose façade combines Moorish windows, engaged Hathor columns, and a frieze of Egyptian figures.

The Industrial Revolution drew on Egypt's connotations of stability and durability to allay public fears of new technologies. Egyptian battered walls and the shape of obelisks were functionally well suited as supports for new suspension bridges, constructed in Europe as early as the 1820s, and for the walls of pumping stations and reservoirs, including the massive walls of the Croton Reservoir in New York (1837–1842). Railway stations and factories, too, were built in the Egyptian style. A notable example is the Temple Mill, Leeds (1842), a flax-spinning mill based closely on the temples of Dendera and Antaeopolis in the Description de l'Egypte; the Egyptian theme was chosen because of the association of linen with ancient Egypt.

The Egyptian style was also appropriate for educational buildings, including libraries, museums (the Berlin Neues Museum, 1843–1855), universities (the Medical School, University of Virginia in Richmond, 1844), and zoos (the Antwerp Zoo's Elephant House, 1855–1856). Egyptian forms were used for prisons and courts in the United States, where the somber, heavy lines were intended to invoke the sublime nature of “the Law” and inspire criminals to reform. Two outstanding examples were the New Jersey State Penitentiary at Trenton (1832–1836), and the New York City Halls of Justice and House of Detention (1835–1838), known as “The Tombs,” both designed by John Haviland and based in part on the Description de l'Egypte.

In the funerary Egyptomania of the nineteenth century, a new development in Europe and America was the garden cemetery. Designed as a place of repose for the dead and of reflection for the living, such cemeteries commonly featured pylon gateways and Egyptianized mausoleums. Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris (resting place of many members of the Napoleonic Expedition) is among the earliest examples; Highgate Cemetery in London (1839) and Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1831) are among the most spectacular. Egyptian motifs, with connotations of the ability to defy time, were felt to be particularly appropriate, although some Christians questioned the use of pagan symbols for their burials. Egyptian motifs were also used throughout the century on synagogues, churches, and lodges of fraternal orders.

Nineteenth-century painters increasingly used archaeologically accurate details in their depictions of biblical or historical scenes. Two widely reproduced examples are John Martin's enormous apocalyptic paintings and Sir Edward John Poynter's Israel in Egypt (1867), in which Israelite slaves drag an oversized version of a stone lion (one on view in the British Museum) past a hodgepodge of carefully rendered pyramids and temples. Orientalists such as Jean-Léon Gérôme painted “re-creations” of ancient life in Egypt (usually including voluptuous nude or semiclad female figures), while the Symbolists painted Nilotic elements as part of their eclectic, occult, and poetic expression. Painters as varied as the Pre-Raphaelites, Paul Gauguin, and André Derain also used ancient Egypt for inspiration. Despite the flood of accurate data, objects, and drawings, however, most artists, designers, and writers did not adopt archaeological accuracy as their primary goal. They continued to draw on other sources—including contemporary and historic Egyptomania, particularly Piranesi and Monfaucon. The Bible, images and accounts of Cleopatra (the most often portrayed figure from ancient Egypt), and even modern novels, such as Théophile Gauthier's Le Roman de la Momie (1858), proved fertile sources for creative minds.

Nineteenth-century Egyptomania was essentially the preserve of the well-to-do, since only they could afford the finely crafted Egyptianized furniture and decorative arts. As mass production increased, a wider array of affordable products became available. The English designer Christopher Dresser (1834–1904) was one of the first to create designs for the mass-produced objects and furniture market; he based several furniture designs on Egyptian prototypes, while his decorative wares were produced in a range of materials and sizes to serve both the wealthy and the middle class.

In the twentieth century, a number of factors fostered a greater knowledge and appreciation of ancient Egypt and its art. Archaeological discoveries, exhibitions of Egyptian art, better education, and an enhanced Western respect for non-Western art have all led to the democratization of Egyptomania. Contrary to popular belief, however, twentieth-century Egyptomania did not begin with the 1922 discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb. It continued on from the turn of the century, spurred in part by existing trends, archaeological discoveries, and an increase in tourism to Egypt. Artists in all fields were inspired by Egyptian themes, from painters such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Amadeo Modigliani to Diaghilev's experimental dance company, Les Ballets Russes, to the modern dancer Martha Graham, who was re-creating Egyptian dances by 1920. Exotic Egypt was also represented in popular music, including the oriental foxtrot and such songs as There's Egypt in Your Dreamy Eyes (1905).

Egypt's greatest impact, however, was on the fledgling movie industry, whose earliest films explored the now-common Egyptian themes of biblical epics, mummies, and Cleopatra. Theda Bara's sultry Cleopatra (1917) and Cecil B. DeMille's lavishly Egyptianizing Ten Commandments (filmed in 1922, released in 1923) set the stage for filmmakers to come. Movie theater design reflected the exoticism of the new medium, resulting in such extravagances as the movie palaces of Europe and the Americas. Egyptian elements appear as early as 1916, and the Louxor Cinema in Paris (1920–1921) was one of the first of many wholly Egyptian-style movie palaces.

Commercially, Egyptian motifs were used to promote products as varied as sewing machines and cigarettes, whose packages were frequently decorated with fanciful scenes of ancient and modern Egypt. Legends of Cleopatra and ideas of exotic beauty made Egyptian themes naturals for selling beauty products such as soap, powder, and perfume (in pharaoh-headed crystal bottles by Baccarat). Advertisements ranged from completely Egyptian settings (with varying degrees of accuracy) to modern Western women in contemporary garb with an Egyptian theme.

While Egyptian architectural elements continue to be used, Egyptianized domestic architecture remains rare, perhaps because of Egypt's long association with death. It did flourish, however, in southern California—perhaps because of the sunny climate and the proximity of the fantasy-based Hollywood film industry. Los Angeles boasted one set of Egyptianized bungalow apartments by 1916; after the discovery Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922, Los Angeles and San Diego in particular blossomed with “Egyptian” buildings. The discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb immediately created a tidal wave of Egyptomania. As early as the spring of 1923, couturiers were showing Tut-inspired clothing. Books about Egypt were reissued, as were early 1900s decorative art objects. From 1923 to World War II, Egyptian themes appeared on every sort of product from Cartier jewelry to furniture, candy and cake tins. A few luxury passenger ships boasted sumptuous Egyptian lounges, and there was even a Scarab automobile in 1938.

The internationale or arts modernes movement (now commonly called Art Deco), showcased at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (Paris, 1925), drew on existing Egyptomania and the Tutankhamun discoveries. The pure lines and stark shapes of Egyptian architecture were suddenly seen as modern, even futuristic. While many 1920s and 1930s buildings, such as Adelaide House (London, 1925) and the Chrysler Building (New York, 1930), combined clean lines with elaborate Egyptian-inspired decoration, others were less restrained; in choosing a colorful terracotta façade and elaborate Egyptianized interiors for their new offices in 1923, W. C. Reebie & Brother, a Chicago moving company, consciously combined Egypt's reputation for preservation and security with Tutankhamun's novelty.


Egyptomania. Luxor Casino and Hotel, LasVegas (1993), an extravagant example of late twentieth–century Egyptomania. (Photograph by M. E. McKircher)

Hollywood and other filmmaking exploited the trend. The Mummy, starring Boris Karloff (1932), and its successors carried on the tradition of depicting Egypt as a land of mystery; a film such as Cleopatra, starring Claudette Colbert (1932), used history and literature as an excuse for extravagance and spectacle. Magicians and other entertainers, and even some period cartoons, featured Egypt or King Tut (Tutankhamun). Ancient Egypt was also used by writers as varied as Thomas Mann (Joseph and His Brothers, 1933–1943), Agatha Christie (Death Comes as the End, 1944), and Tennessee Williams (an early story, “The Vengeance of Nitocris,” 1928). After World War II, the fashion for Egypt receded for a time, disappearing almost entirely from both decorative arts and architecture. Ancient Egypt was shown in Hollywood's biblical epics and in films such as The Egyptian (1954); Land of the Pharaohs (1955, inspired by the 1954 discovery of the Solar Bark at Giza); Charlton Heston's turn as Moses in The Ten Commandments (1956); and the Hammer Studios' Mummy movies. It was used in fantasy literature, which included popular 1950s and 1960s comic books of the “Mummy's Curse” variety; in advertisements for a variety of products; and in the 1960s revival of moderne as Art Deco.

The 1978 world museum tour of artifacts from Tutankhamun's tomb began a new wave of Egyptomania that had not peaked as of 1999. Its inception coincided with a renewed interest in early civilizations, the beginnings of New Age mysticism, and the growth of both the fantasy and science fiction genres.

Postmodernism in the 1980s made historical references in architecture acceptable once again. I. M. Pei's pyramidal entrance to the Louvre Museum in Paris (1988) is an outstanding example. The Memphis Zoo and Aquarium's 1990–1991 pylon entrance, with scenes drawn from the temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu, continues the tradition begun in Antwerp in 1855. More fanciful is the pyramid-shaped Luxor Casino and Hotel, built in 1993 in Las Vegas, Nevada, which is fronted by a sphinx 50 percent larger than its Giza prototype; the structure is thoroughly Egyptianized inside and out. Popular culture—1980s and 1990s television, American comic books and their more sophisticated French counterparts (often combining accurate drawings of modern and ancient Egypt with Egyptianized fantasies), and a flow of nonfiction and fiction writings—continues to influence the public's conceptions and misconceptions about ancient Egypt. Historical accuracy, as always, remains a factor in Egyptomania, but not necessarily the main concern. Today's mass media, heirs to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century works as well as Hollywood productions, perpetuate old and new myths about ancient Egypt—its supposed descent from Atlantis; influence on it by beings from outer space; “pyramid power.”

Egypt continues to be used to sell everything from cosmetics to computer technology, its reputation for wisdom and stability once again serving to reassure people about new technology. Egyptian-inspired products vary in authenticity from museum-sanctioned reproductions of antiquities to toys based on television shows or movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Philip Glass's opera, Akhenaten (1984) balances the Bangles' rock song “Walk like an Egyptian.” Television documentaries proliferate depicting all aspects of ancient Egyptian life and history—with varying degrees of accuracy. Serious books on ancient Egypt, its place in history, and its meaning to the modern world abound, as do mysteries, gothic novels, fantasies, and historical novels. Tutankhamun's mask and the Berlin Ägyptisches Museum's bust of Nefertiti have become modern icons, instantly identifiable, appearing in every imaginable context. Egyptomania has itself become a serious field of study, particularly in France, where the 1994 exhibition L'Egyptomanie and the symposium offered in connection with it were, themselves, examples of Egyptomania.


  • Carrott, Richard G. The Egyptian Revival, Its Sources, Monuments and Meaning, 1808–1858. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London, 1978. One of the best books on architectural Egyptomania.
  • Curl, James Stevens. Egyptomania. The Egyptian Revival: A Recurring Theme in the History of Taste. Manchester, 1994. Perhaps the best overall survey in English of Egyptomania from the Ptolemaic period to the present; excellent bibliography.
  • Humbert, Jean-Marcel. L'Egyptomanie dans l'Art Occidental. Paris, 1989. A superb and lavishly illustrated volume, particularly concerning the decorative arts.
  • Humbert, Jean-Marcel, Michael Pantazzi, and Christiane Ziegler. Egyptomania: Egypt in Western Art, 1730–1930. Paris and Ottawa, 1994. The English version exhibition catalog of the most recent comprehensive Egyptomania exhibition; excellent bibliography.
  • Roullet, Anne. The Egyptian and Egyptianizing Monuments of Imperial Rome. Etudes préliminaires aux religions orientales dans l'empire romain, 20. Leiden, 1972. The most complete work on Roman Egyptomania in English.

Richard A. Fazzini and Mary E. McKercher