Incoming: King Tut and Cairo Time
I have a touch of Egyptomania.
And even though the AGO‘s “King Tut: the Golden King and the Great Pharaohs” exhibition doesn’t open until Nov. 24 (tickets are on sale now), this weekend I purchased not one but two pieces of jewelry to celebrate.
Back in the late 1970s, when King Tut‘s treasures first came to North America, it inspired the “Tutmania” line by Providence, R.I. costume jewellery company. The scarab pendant pictured above is just one example of the collection. I also picked up a sterling Eye of Horus pendant of the same vintage.
The ’70s wasn’t the only time that the jewellery world was swept by all things Egyptian. The first wave of Egyptomania followed Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaigns (1798-1801) During this period, symbols that could be found in architectural ruins, like scarab beetles, sphinxes, winged lions and lotuses were cut and pasted onto regular Regency-style ornaments to create a hybrid style referred to as “Egyptian Revival”.
In the 19th century, during the British Occupation. gentleman archaeologists made Egypt popular again, this time uncovering long buried tomb treasure. For the first time, Europeans had examples of ancient Egyptian jewellery and copied the boldly-coloured and embellished designs. European jewellers would sometimes create new bijoux set with ancient stones or even real, deceased scarab beetles.
In the 1920s, with Howard Carter‘s discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb, Art Deco designers married their streamlined geometric of Art Deco with angular, ancient designs. It was a good match. Motifs at this time were less about lotus shapes and sun disks and more about depicting the faces of Tut and Queen Nefertiti. Snakes, lotus blossoms, hieroglyphic writing and pyramids.
By the late 1963, with the release of the movie Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor, we had colourful plastic scarabs adorning watch bands and circle brooches.