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Egyptian Revival Architecture

An example of Egyptian Revival Architecture

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.

Bernini’s Elephant and Obelisk

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.
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The Egyptian Hall

With the French occupation and exploration of Egypt in 1798 (Napoleon was seeking to cut off British interests in India) a mania for all things Pharonic came into vogue. The Battle of the Nile, in August, 1798, allowed the British to gain an advantage, and by 1801 they were in the process of taking over French positions and possessions. One of these acquisitions was the recently discovered Rosetta Stone (discovered in 1799 and on display at the British Museum since 1802) which would prove to be the key to unlocking the ancient hieroglyphics which decorated many of the temples and royal tombs that were being discovered.

William Bullock, collector of curiosities…

Egyptian style architecture and furniture were in high demand, and as ever, the enterprising among Britain’s populace were keen to take their share. No one was more prepared to do this than William Bullock.

Bullock was the son of William Bullock and his wife Elizabeth (née Smallwood) proprietors of a travelling waxworks. He began as a goldsmith and jeweller in Birmingham. By 1795 Bullock was in Liverpool, where he founded a Museum of Natural Curiosities at 24 Lord Street. While still trading as a jeweller and goldsmith, in 1801 he published a descriptive catalogue of the works of art, armoury, objects of natural history, and other curiosities in the collection, some of which had been brought back by members of James Cook’s expeditions.

Bullock’s collection on display.

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