Napoleon and Egyptomania in Tennessee

  • Author(s): Evans, Elaine Altman
  • Series:
  • Imprint: McClung Museum
  • Publication Date: 2009-11-01
  • Status: Active
  • Available in Paper: Price $19.95 | Buy Now

Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Egypt in 1798–99 was one of many factors that influenced the rise of Egyptomania, a pop-Western fascination with all things Egyptian. Napoleon and Egyptomania in Tennessee examines this trend in the wake of the Napoleon Expedition and how it found its way to Tennessee. Napoleon had brought to Egypt not only his French forces but an army of scholars from many disciplines to document a relatively unknown country. Their observations resulted in the monumental Description de l’Égypte, published in Paris from 1809 to 1828, an extraordinary multivolume publication with numerous engravings revealing ancient monuments and ways of life.

The sumptuous Description remained an influential work through the decades that followed. Readers digested rich ideas about the wonders of the Valley of the Nile. Archaeologists excavated numerous sites, museums col-lected Egyptian objects, travelers flocked to the country, and international expositions replicated ancient monuments. Fashion and the decorative arts borrowed Egyptian motifs. In 1922, the famous Tomb of Tutankhamen discovery stunned the world, provoking another wave of interpretation.

The mania swept the metropolitan United States but only later reached Tennessee. This new book illustrates the ongoing infatuation with original prints, silverware, jewelry, figurines, ceramics, glassware, and advertisements from Tennessee’s private, museum, and library collections. Chapters present examples from Tennessee’s cemeteries, films, music, magic, and civic architecture. Examined is the Egyptian Palace at Nashville’s Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition (1897), along with photographs and original papers, and Nashville’s Downtown Presbyterian Church (1849–51), a masterpiece of the Egyptian Revival Style. Surprises are to be found on every page. Elaine A. Evans’s absorbing and well-illustrated book reminds us that Egypt can still be discovered in a wide variety of places.