Egyptomania, the Early Years – Piranesi, Gerome, Desprez (93)

Louis Jean Desprez, Tomb with Sphinxes and an Owl, 1779-84

This short excerpt from my lecture on the art and history of the Egyptomania phenomenon delves into its early origins. As Europe emerged from the Middle Ages, Egyptian antiquities pillaged during the Roman Empire were excavated from their slumber under Roman soil and newly erected across the city. Even before the translation of the Rosetta Stone, before Napoleon’s epic Egyptian expedition and publication of Description de l’Égypte, artists such as Giovanni Battista Piranesi and Louis Jean Desprez were already experimenting and defining what we would come to call Egyptomania. In the subsequent generation, academic painter Jean Léon Gérôme reveals a mature appreciation for ancient Egyptomania in his meticulous renderings of the the Roman Empire.

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