What is Egyptian Revival Architecture?
Egyptian Revival is an architectural style that uses the motifs and imagery of ancient Egypt. It is attributed generally to the public awareness of ancient Egyptian monuments generated by Napoleon's conquest of Egypt and Admiral Nelson's defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of the Nile in 1798. Napoleon took a scientific expedition with him to Egypt. Publication of the expedition's work, the Description de l'Égypte
, began in 1809 and was published as a series through 1826. However, works of art and architecture (such as funerary monuments) in the Egyptian style had been made or built occasionally on the European continent and the British Isles since the time of the Renaissance.
The most important example is probably Gian Lorenzo Bernini's obelisk in the Piazza Navona in Rome. Bernini's obelisk influenced the obelisk constructed as a family funeral memorial by Sir Edward Lovatt Pierce for the Allen family at Stillorgan in Ireland in 1717, one of several Egyptian obelisks erected in Ireland during the early 18th century. Others may be found at Belan, County Kildare and Dangan, County Meath. The Casteltown Folly in County Kildare is probably the best known, albeit the least Egyptian styled, of these obelisks.
Egyptian buildings had also been built as garden follies. The most elaborate was probably the one built by Frederick I, Duke of Württemberg in the gardens of the Château de Montbéliard. It included an Egyptian bridge across which guests walked to reach an island with an elaborate Egyptian-influenced bath house. The building featured a billiards room and a "bagnio". It was designed by the duke's court architect, Jean Baptiste Kleber.
New after the Napoleonic invasion was a sudden increase of the number of works of art and the fact that, for the first time, entire buildings began to be built to resemble those of ancient Egypt. In France and Britain this was at least partially inspired by successful war campaigns undertaken by each country while in Egypt.
According to David Brownlee, the 1798 Karlsruhe Synagogue, an early building by the influential Friedrich Weinbrenner was "the first large Egyptian building to be erected since antiquity."According to Diana Muir Appelbaum, it was "the first public building (that is, not a folly, stage set, or funeral monument) in the Egyptian revival style."
A street or passage named the Place du Caire or Foire du Caire (Fair of Cairo) was built in Paris in 1798 on the former site of the convent of the "Filles de la Charité". In 1828 a building with Egyptianizing detail including large Hathor heads and a freize by sculptor J. G. Garraudwas built at # 2.Place du Caire. Among the earliest monuments of the Egyptian revival in Paris is the Fontaine du Fellah in Paris, built in 1806. It was designed by François-Jean Bralle. A well-documented example, destroyed after Napoleon was deposed, was the monument to General Louis Desaix in the Place des Victoires was built in 1810. It featured a nude statue of the general and an obelisk, both set upon an Egyptian Revival base.
One of the first British buildings to show an Egyptian Revival interior was the newspaper office of The Courier
on the Strand in London. It was built in 1804 and featured a cavetto (coved) cornice and Egyptian-influenced columns with palmiform capitals.Other early British examples include the Egyptian Hall in London, completed in 1812, and the Egyptian Gallery, a private room in the home of connoisseur Thomas Hope (1769-1831) to display his Egyptian antiquities.
Hope was eager to advance public awareness of historical painting and design and to influence design in the grand houses of Regency London. In pursuit of his scholarly projects, he began sketching furniture, room interiors and costumes, and publishing books with his accompanying scholarly texts.
In 1807 Thomas Hope published sketches of his furniture, in a folio volume, titled Household Furniture and Interior Decoration,
which had considerable influence and brought about a change in the upholstery and interior decoration of houses. Hope's furniture designs were in the pseudo-classical manner generally called "English Empire". It was sometimes extravagant, and often heavy, but was much more restrained than the wilder and later flights of Thomas Sheraton in this style.
In 1809 he published the Costumes of the Ancients,
and in 1812 Designs of Modern Costumes,
works which display a large amount of antiquarian research. A Historical Essay on Architecture,
which featured illustrations based on early Hope drawings, was published posthumously by his family in 1835. Thus Hope became famous in London’s aristocratic circles as ‘the costume and furniture man’. The sobriquet was regarded as a compliment by his enthusiastic supporters, but for his critics, including Lord Byron, it was a term of ridicule.
Egyptian revival architecture enjoyed considerable popularity in other countries as well. The first Egyptian revival building in the United States was the 1824 synagogue building of Congregation Mikveh Israel Synagogue in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was followed by a series of major public buildings in the first half of the 19th century including the 1835 Philadelphia County Prison, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States,the 1836 Fourth District Police Station in New Orleans and the 1838 New York City jail known as The Tombs. Other notable public buildings in Egyptian style included the 1844 Old Whaler's Church in Sag Harbor, New York, the 1846 First Baptist Church in Essex, Connecticut, the 1845 Egyptian Building of the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond and the 1848 United States Custom House in New Orleans. The most notable Egyptian structure in the United States was the Washington Monument, begun in 1848, this obelisk originally featured doors with cavetto cornices and winged sun disks, which were later removed.
The South African College in the then British Cape Colony features an "Egyptian Building" constructed in 1841; the Egyptian Revival building of the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation is also still standing.
The Great Synagogue (Sydney) was Australia's first Egyptian Revival building, followed by the Hobart Synagogue, the Launceston Synagogue and the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation, all by 1850. The earliest obelisk in Australia was erected at Macquarie Place, Sydney in 1818.