The Egyptian Renaissance
The Afterlife of Ancient Egypt in Early Modern Italy
Fascination with ancient Egypt is a recurring theme in Western culture, and here Brian Curran uncovers its deep roots in the Italian Renaissance, which embraced not only classical art and literature but also a variety of other cultures that modern readers don’t tend to associate with early modern Italy. Patrons, artists, and spectators of the period were particularly drawn, Curran shows, to Egyptian antiquity and its artifacts, many of which found their way to Italy in Roman times and exerted an influence every bit as powerful as that of their more familiar Greek and Roman counterparts.
Curran vividly recreates this first wave of European Egyptomania with insightful interpretations of the period’s artistic and literary works. In doing so, he paints a colorful picture of a time in which early moderns made the first efforts to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs, and popes and princes erected pyramids and other Egyptianate marvels to commemorate their own authority. Demonstrating that the emergence of ancient Egypt as a distinct category of historical knowledge was one of Renaissance humanism’s great accomplishments, Curran’s peerless study will be required reading for Renaissance scholars and anyone interested in the treasures and legacy of ancient Egypt.
“Brian Curran’s learned and eloquent book traces a new path through the art, culture, and scholarship of High Renaissance Italy. He recreates the many roles that versions of Egypt—some imaginary, others based on surprisingly precise observation of original objects—played in Italian culture of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. And in doing so he reveals an erudition, insight, and imaginative sympathy that would do credit to the great humanists he studies.”
“A tour de force that is deceptively easy to read. The fluidity of Curran’s writing makes his crystal-clear analysis of stubbornly elusive topics—such as the bizarre forgeries of Annius of Viterbo—look simple and straightforward. There should be no mistake about the fact that he is dancing through a minefield, and doing it with Renaissance sprezzatura. The Egyptian Renaissance will be the definitive study of its kind.”<Ingrid D. Rowland, author of The Scarith of Scornello: A Tale of Renaissance Forgery>
“A fascinating journey into one of the most intriguing and yet heretofore dimly lit recesses of the Renaissance imagination. Meticulously researched and brilliantly written, this magisterial study illuminates a major aspect of the revival of antiquity and reminds us that it was inspired not only by classical Greek and Roman culture, but also by the mysterious world of the pharaohs.”