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New Book on Egyptomania in Early Modern Europe

Oct 17, 2016

Dr. Friederike Werner, Cluster member from 2012 to 2015, will publish the volume “Ägyptomanie in Preußen – Die Tafelskulptur zur Hochzeit im Königshaus 1804” on the research results of the Cluster’s project MC 14.2 “Materialising Memories” at the end of October. Her book investigates the history and meaning of a royal table centrepiece which is kept in the Schlossmuseum Darmstadt.

Based on this masterpiece, crafted in Berlin in 1803, the monograph breaks open the mechanisms and ideas behind the movement of so called “Egyptomania” in early modern Europe. This phenomenon can chiefly be considered as the reception and recreation of ancient Egyptian objects of art.

The book “Ägyptomanie in Preußen – Die Tafelskulptur zur Hochzeit im Königshaus 1804” deciphers the multilayered enigmatic and profound train of thoughts that led to commission and design of the masterpiece, whose initiator was Frederick William III., King of Prussia. The path into the peculiar and unexpected perception of the royal idea is spread in detail.

The centrepiece of black and gilded bronze and white opaque glass is a salient example of Egyptomania. It does not include any ancient Egyptian object, instead, it refers to different prototypes, places, epochs and ideas and also mirrors the mental image and state of knowledge of ancient Egypt in the years around 1800. Before the scientific exploration of Egypt and the significant transfer of ancient artefacts during the 19th century, it was common practice to refer to principal works as prototypes for the creation of Egyptianising objects.

Artists were concentrated on well-known guiding themes such as Apis, Canopus, Antinoos, sphinxes, lions, obelisks or hieroglyphic texts, as described by ancient authors and depicted in illustrated publications. The imagination of ancient authors as well as copies and variations of Roman Egyptianising artefacts are present as well. Likewise, the use of contemporary sources (Vivant Denon, Voyage dans la basse et la haute Égypte, 1802) led to an approximately accurate rendition of ancient Egyptian models in several details.

All these ideas find echo in this centrepiece. It was placed at the spousal banquet of Prince William, brother of King Frederick William III., and Princess Marianne of Hesse-Homburg. The publication illustrates the stated ideas of the King as well as the surprising and specific coherence to the wedding in January 1804.

The book will be published by VDG – Verlag und Datenbank für Geisteswissenschaften Weimar –and reformulates the outcomes of the research project MC 14.2 Materialising Memories | Aegyptiaca in early modern Europe and the phenomenon of Egyptomania at the Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe in a Global Context". Head of this project was Prof. Joachim Friedrich Quack.

Friederike Werner is a Post-Doctoral researcher, former research assistant and was member of the project MC 14.2 Materialising Memories at the Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe in a Global Context" from 2012 to 2015. Her research interests concentrate on Art history, Archaeology, Egyptology and Egyptomania.

Perspective: In consequence to the stated outcomes of the research and in regard to the significance of the centrepiece an exhibition about Egyptomania is to be planned ahead in the Schlossmuseum Darmstadt.


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  • Copyright: Hessische Hausstiftung - Schlossmuseum Darmstadt und VDG Verlag Weimar