What is Egyptomania?
The term Egyptomania, from Greek Egypto- ‘Egypt’ and mania ‘madness, fury’, refers to the enthusiasm for everything that is related to ancient Egypt. This interest is not merely scientific, and Egyptian and Egyptianising motifs have been adopted throughout visual culture including architecture, on clothing and jewellery. Although Egyptomania has been seen in many places and at many times, several peaks are especially noteworthy.
Egyptomania in antiquity
Greeks and Romans were fascinated by ancient Egypt, as demonstrated in texts such as Herodotus’ Histories (fifth century BC) and the Bibliotheca Historica by Diodorus Siculus (early first century BC).
After Emperor Augustus conquered Egypt in 31 BC, Eyptomania arrived in Rome. The high official Caius Cestius, for instance, erected a pyramid shaped tomb (18–12 BC). Emperor Hadrian (76–138), who visited Egypt himself in 130, had his deceased lover Antinous venerated as Osiris, the Egyptian god of the underworld.
Description of Egypt
After Napoleon Bonaparte's campaign to Egypt from 1798 to 1801, a new wave of Egyptomania hit Europe. This was largely due to the many scientists that accompanied him and recorded the remains of ancient Egyptian monuments. Such thorough documentation had never been undertaken before.
In 1822, Jean-François Champollion deciphered the hieroglyphs using the Rosetta Stone which Napoleon’s troupes had found in 1799. This was the beginning of scientific Egyptology.
When Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon discovered the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun in 1922, ancient Egypt took the world by storm once again. It was not only the find itself that ignited public curiosity, but also the tale of the mummy’s curse, which supposedly killed Lord Carnarvon in 1923.
As Tutankhamun’s burial equipment has been regularly exhibited in museums across the world since the 1960s, the ‘Tutmania’ is arguably still alive today.
During the heights of Egyptomania few people could afford to travel to Egypt in person. The only contact they had with Egypt was therefore through literature, art and architecture, and it became representative of exoticism, romance, and mysticism.
Moreover, popular tales about Egypt mostly circulate around the search for immortality and eternal love, reflecting people’s innermost desires. Egyptomania therefore expresses these longings in a visual way through obelisks, sphinxes, pyramids, and all sorts of other collectables.