Wizard of the Sphinx

American, ca. 1920

As popular as ancient Egypt was in nineteenth-century cultural circles considered “respectable” or “highbrow” – such as archaeology, history, linguistics, or even architecture – it was at least as popular in social areas decidedly more democratic. Popular culture of all sorts was quick to seize on images and discourses of ancient Egypt and use them as forms of knowledge and entertainment. In fact, the fact that so many different people from so many walks of life were able to claim their knowledge of ancient Egypt as “the truth” – that certain important facts pertaining to Egyptian history were (and still are) famously unresolved – meant not only that Egypt retained much of its “mystery” in the face of scientific investigation but that almost anyone could claim to be an Egyptologist – or at least an Egyptomaniac. Dancers, magicians, fortune tellers, sideshow performers, stripteasers – all used the exoticism and eroticism attached to imported Egyptiana to fashion a crucial branch of American Egyptomania. This image dates from the early twentieth century, and is an advertisement for a magician.



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Wizard of the Sphinx