Rediscovering the Past / Inspired by the past

The rediscovery of ancient civilisations – Egyptian, Assyrian, Hittite and Phoenician – captured the public imagination. Visitors flocked to see the newly excavated monuments. Books describing the discoveries sold in huge quantities. Public lectures were unfailingly popular.

Everyone wanted to show off his or her knowledge of archaeology and appreciation of the new artistic styles. “Egyptomania” took hold repeatedly: first after Napoleon’s expedition, revived when the Suez Canal was built in 1869, and again in 1920s, with the discovery of Tut-ankh-amun’s tomb.

Archaeological discoveries combined with oriental fantasies, stories from the Bible, tales from the Greeks and translations of the One Thousand and One Nights, to make the Arab World, ancient and modern, an irresistible source of inspiration for art, music, theatre, decorative arts and architecture. An enthused populace funded exploration, excavation and survey work.

Working NumberNameHolding MuseumDateMaterialsCurator Justification
FR 137Exposition Universelle - Their Royal Imperial Majesties and the Viceroy of Egypt visit the Temple of EdfuNational Library of France 1867Shared appreciation of past cultures was a way to build closer relations between modern nations.
UK 049Assyrianising pendantThe British Museum1865–1870Gold, glass, mosaicMotifs from ancient objects became fashionable in Europe.
TN 090Chateaubriand at the ruins of CarthageInstitut Supérieur d’Histoire Contemporaine de la Tunisie19th century The 19th-century view of the past was a romanticising one.
UK 096Recreating AssyriaPrivate collection1850’s?The European public delighted in exploring ancient monuments for themselves, through elaborate reconstructions at exhibitions.
IT2 006The Virgin at the NileNational Gallery of Modern Art (GNAM)1865Oil on canvasArtists blended careful research of antiquity with elements of fantasy.