The Vintage Egyptologist: Bringing Fashion and Heritage Back Into the Spotlight

It’s not often that we come across an Instagram account that is both aesthetically beautiful and educational; thankfully the days of the bathroom selfie are slowly coming to an end, but we still get excited whenever we find solid, quality content on a platform that is drowning in yoga-practicing influencers and make-up gurus.

Dr. Colleen Darnell, aka the Vintage Egyptologist, is an American Egyptologist, author and art history professor with a passion for all things vintage. Darnell blends her expertise in Ancient Egyptian history with authentic fashion from the early 1900s, taking her audience on an incredible journey, through stunning image and film, that crosses decades and borders, and even into the afterlife.

Whether it’s explaining the reliefs at Edfu dressed in an Edwardian duster, or talking about the lion-headed goddess of war, Sekhmet, in a 1920’s crochet dress, Darnell provides these amazing insights into the world of the ancient and the not-so-ancient.

Her photos and videos of Egypt trigger some major wanderlust and make it easy to remember what makes this country so special.

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One of my favorite photographs of John and me: a tintype by @jolenelupo of @penumbratintypestudio and @penumbrafoundation taken during the June @jazzagelawnparty (the August party is happening on the 25th and 26th!). John wears an original 1930s deco jacket and original deadstock 1920s pants (from rpvintage.com) and spats. I sport a 1930s two piece swimsuit from @dethrosevintage, 1930s kimono from @1860_1960, and hat by @chapeaug as I lounge in an early twentieth century deck chair from an ocean liner (from @old_beautiful). Folding chair designs of the sort of which this chair is based appear in earnest in the United States in the 1830s with patent applications for numerous folding and otherwise moveable seating contraptions coinciding with the increased machine production of furniture. I like to imagine that this deck chair once graced the decks of the Steamship Champollion, one of three Egyptian-themed ships launched by the Messageries Maritimes between 1924 and 1926. Every detail of the Champollion and her sister ships, the Mariette Pacha and the Theophile Gautier, were based on Egyptian revival designs: furniture, carpets, fittings, and elaborate paintings. Sadly, the Champollion was broken up in 1952, but two polychrome wood statues of Egyptian "queens" are preserved in a private collection (swipe for image). . #egyptologists #egyptianrevival #jazzagelawnparty #jalp2018 #tintype #portraitphotography #1920sfashion #1930sfashion #mensvintage #parasol #steamship #deckchair #vintagetravel #champollion #egyptomania #vintageswimsuit #truevintage #truevintageootd

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Returning to a topic that I find particularly interesting as an art historian, and that is very much in the air with the current celebration of the return to the roaring 20s. Here I discuss a group of reliefs that are displayed outside of Edfu Temple and often overlooked (this makes sense: they are in the shadow of the best preserved temple in Egypt!), but which have a fascinating story to tell. Both the 25th and 26th dynasties celebrated earlier monuments and art styles, and I can certainly imagine them saying something like: "It's back to the 5th Dynasty, yay!" or "It's back to the 6th Dynasty!" (although they, like us, would have seen the 4th dynasty as the real pinnacle, but the two kings of the 24th Dynasty–who shared rule of Egypt with both the 23rd and 25th Dynasties!–were probably aware that "back to the 4th Dynasty" was way out of their league). The Nubian pharaohs of the 25th Dynasty had specific iconographic preferences, including the cap crown, a double uraeus, and ram-headed pendants. That specific iconography means that we can be certain about the date of the reliefs that I am discussing here, even though Psamtek II erased the cartouche and carved his own name. My jodphurs are from @fashionistavintage, and the Edwardian duster from @jackpotjenvintage is one of my current favorite pieces! . #edfu #edfutemple #ancientegypt #egyptologist #ancientegypt #egypt #1920s #edwardianfashion #edwardian #jodphurs #truevintage #1920sfashion

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Standing in the wabet of Dendera Temple (photo by @hsn08) wearing a light green 1920s sports dress (from @lillian_lorraine) and matching shoes from @bettiepageshoes and cloche from @grevi1875 – colors befitting Hathor (and incidentally, the color of the skin of the goddess Nut on the ceiling of the wabet). The wabet of Dendera Temple is virtually identical to the wabet of the temple of Horus at Edfu – you can scroll back to an IGTV tour of the Edfu wabet. The parallelism of the temples’ decoration is not coincidental. The statue of Hathor would annually sail from Dendera up the Nile to visit her consort Horus at Edfu, and reliefs at Edfu depict this divine procession. The wabet, an open solar court with roofed kiosk (which you see behind me), is part of the north-south axis of Ptolemaic temples that can trace its origins far back to the early Old Kingdom. The Third Dynasty pyramid complex of Djoser is oriented on a north-south axis. North of the Step Pyramid is an open court for ritual sacrifice, while to the south an open court for royal ritual is complemented by a cenotaph, the so-called south tomb. In the east-west oriented pyramid complexes of the later Old Kingdom, the north-south axis is incorporated through an open court to the north and again, a subsidiary pyramid, an Osirian element, to the south. We see this same combination of architectural elements in New Kingdom temples, like those of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri and Ramesses III at Medinet Habu. At Medinet Habu an open solar chapel to the north (with some amazing excerpts from the Netherworld Books) corresponds to a set of Ptah-Sokar-Osiris chapels to the south (complete with excerpts from the Book of the Dead). Not only then do these chapels at Medinet Habu demonstrate the problems with identifying texts often called “funerary” as belonging purely to the realm of tomb decoration, but they provide a crucial link between Old Kingdom pyramid complexes and Ptolemaic temples in terms of dual axes. Join us in June 2020 as we sail from Cairo to Aswan (link in bio) . #1920s #1920sfashion #truevintageootd #dendera #egyptologist #egyptology #ancientegypt #thisisegypt #vintageegypt #egypt

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Yesterday I received a surprise gift (from a fellow Durham resident) of an amazing collection of textiles, primarily of Safavid and Qajar Iranian and ninteteenth century Indian origin. The pieces, many whole, but a few of the older being fragmentary, were collected by the editor of a Victorian magazine, who had a residence in New York and apparently had left this collection of Indo-Persian treasures in a trunk along with a few late Victorian and Edwardian aprons. At least a couple of the pieces appear to be of seventeeth century date, and research continues feverishly at the Darnell household. Many of the textiles were tent hangings of the sort that have been used in the Near East from remote antiquity through the Islamic Period, and well attested in ancient Egypt in the elaborate patterns of ceiling designs that one can see especially in Eighteenth Dynasty tombs. I thought my 1930s green gown (from @vintagevirtuosa) would coordinate well with the silk and embroidery designs. Just visible in the shot is the bottom of an empire chest of drawers, probably manufactured in New York that apparently belonged to Dr. Mathewson when he purchased our house from Dr. Childs in 1845. . #truevintage #1930s #1930sdress #1930sfashion #truevintageootd #safavid #antiquefurniture #antiquetextile #fashion #fashionphotography #textile #textiles #antiquetextiles #antiquefurniture #historichome #antiquehome #victoriana

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Happy Birthday @LandRover! Classical Nereids and their Renaissance and Baroque sisters could ride dolphins, and apparently desert nymphs would probably ride camels had they existed in ancient mythology. We suppose that a modern version—a desert dryad living amongst the Acacia ehrenbergiana and Capparis decidua of the "lost oasis" we discovered in January—would rope two trusty desert driving vehicles, though preferably of a vintage nature. Here I ride off into the coming sand and thunderstorm about to rage over the Eastern Desert and Upper Egypt (or am I bringing it with me?). The vehicles are the long wheel base Series III Land Rovers of the Elkab Desert Survey Project, and we here depart after a long day of work on Protodynastic rock inscriptions and Late Roman desert (Blemmye?) remains (I did not actual ride the moving vehicles this time). April 30 was the 70th anniversary of the Land Rover Series I at the Amsterdam Motor Show, and without our small fleet of Rovers John's desert work over the years would have been much more difficult and limited. On the wish-list—a tank-treaded Series II Cuthbertson Rover, a bizarre, four-unit triangular treaded monster Rover. Photo by @alberto.urcia. . #landrover #vintagelandrover #vintagecar #nereid #classicalmythology #greekmythology #LandRover70Years #70thAnniversary #4×4 #Offroad #Classiccars #WorldLandRoverDay #seriesIII #pithhelmet #vintageootd #truevintageootd #vintageskirt #egypt #egyptian #ancientegypt #desertexploration #acacia

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I here model another vintage swimsuit (after actually swimming in it, a rarity for me!)—a dark purplish brown one-piece with slight overhang (as though a top over slightly longer shorts) with crisscrossing back strap that ties in the back (detail in another post, I hope). These wool swimsuits are surprisingly comfortable, and dry quickly, but upon emerging from the water they tend to sag a bit, as here (not terribly noticeable I hope). I am at the outdoor pool of the @sofitellegendoldcataract in Aswan. In the distance to the left are the upper strata of the roughly four millennia of activity at the southern tip of the island of Elephantine—Abu in ancient Egyptian, referring to the elephant, and perhaps the region as an important emporium of ivory. To the right in the distance is the southern shoulder of Qubbet el-Hawa, the Dome of the Winds, site of the rock tombs of the explorers, traders, and governors of Old and Middle Kingdom Aswan. Swipe for another view of the suit, with Gebel Tingar in the background (more on that to come). The settlement on the east bank, where I am bathing in 1920s style, was called Swenet in Egyptian, the Hellenistic-Roman Syene, origin of the modern name Aswan. . #vintageswimwear #vintageswimsuit #swimsuit #oldcataract #egyptology #ancientegypt #aswan #swimmingpool #bobbedhair #parasol #palmtree #truevintage #truevintageootd #1920s #1920sstyle #1920svintage #vintagestyle #nile #swimsuit #egyptian #elephantine

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Steaming up the Nile just north of Gebel Silsila, I pose next to the old ship's wheel of the SS Sudan in a prototype expeditionary swimsuit by @heatherstepanik @reddollyswim (where more details will be available in the future), paired with boots from @thefryecompany. The Sudan still has her original steam turbines, but steering is now performed with the aid of a auxiliary engine acting as a rudder. Ancient Egyptian boats were normally steered by either a set of parallel steering oars, mounted on both sides of the stern, or occasionally by a single large center-mounted steering oar. Steering oars appear to have remained the common method of controlling a vessel's direction until the general adoption of the center-mounted rudder attached directly to the stern of the vessel during the Middle Ages. Through the 17th century, the rudder was controlled initially and on smaller vessels by a tiller, and ultimately on larger warships, like the Swedish Vasa, by moving a vertical lever called a "whipstaff." The ship's wheel finally comes to the ascendant during the 18th century and the great Age of Sail. Although most ancient vessels had two steering oars, one to each quarter, Viking ships showed a preference for a single steering oar to the right rear of the vessel, hence our term "starboard" ("steerboard") for the right side, which you would then dock on the opposite or "port" side. . #egyptologist #egyptology #ancientegypt #steamshipsudan #rudder #whipstaff #shipswheel #navalhistory #ageofsail #vintagestyle #vintageswimwear #vintageswimsuit #swimsuit #pithhelmet #reddolly #vasa #nile #egyptian #maritime #maritimehistory #inmyfrye

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In the court behind the first pylon at Philae Temple, wearing a 1920s Irish crochet dress from @unforgettablevintage, @uniquevintage shoes, and wielding an every-present parasol (as of yet, I have not needed to use it as a weapon, like the great fictional Egyptologist Amelia Peabody). The column behind me to the right has an image of the god Ptah, craftsman and creator deity of Memphis who also personifies the cult images through which divinities may be both imagined and approached in Egyptian religion. Behind him, facing the opposite direction on the same column is a lioness headed goddess, Sakhmet, as the consort of Ptah. Sakhmet is also particularly appropriate to a southern temple, as she is a representation of the female aspect of the creator god, imagined as the “eye” of the solar deity (eye is “ir.t,” a noun of feminine gender and thus personified as a goddess). In a fascinating literary account of the “Destruction of Mankind,” we learn about Sakhmet’s mission to slay all people, only to be stopped by the sun god who had originally commanded her action (definitely more about this later!). By the Ptolemaic period and the time of the major constructions at Philae, the chief goddess of the Egyptian pantheon is Isis, wife of Osiris, for whom a long standing epithet is “great of magic.” Isis can encompass all female divinity, leading to fascinating Greek “Isis aretalogies,” litanies that praise her in all of her names. . #egyptologist #egyptology #ancientegypt #1920sfashion #1920sdress #flapperfashion #philae #egyptiantemple #ancientreligion #isis #sakhmet #ptah #ancientmythology #ameliapeabody #memphis #goddess #truevintage #truevintageootd #irishcrochet #1920s #1920sstyle

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Normally when people speak of Cleopatra they take no thought of Cleopatra I, daughter of Antiochus III of Syria, who introduced the name to the Egyptian House of Ptolemy, so heavy in Arsinoes and Berenikes as names of royal women. Neither do they tend to think of Cleopatra II, to whom Ptolemy VIII is supposed to have sent the head, hands, and feet of their son as birthday present, during an intense civil war. Normally the name Cleopatra evokes on Celopatra VII, last of the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt, consort of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Here I describe the enormous images of Cleopatra VII and her son by Caesar, Ptolemy XV Caesarion, on the rear wall of the temple of Hathor at Dendera. The rear walls of temples were places of popular worship—site of the "Temple of the Hearing Ear" at Karnak—and at Dendera a large cult image of Hathor appears in the center of the wall. By showing herself and Caesarion worshiping that image at enormous scale here, Cleopatra hoped to associate herself and Caesarion with popular worship, and perhaps a revival of the royal cult. Alas, after her suicide on or about August 10, 30 BCE, we hear no more of Caesarion. Some sources suggest he was executed by the victorious Octavian, soon to be Augustus Caesar, perhaps after being lured back from India, whither Cleopatra may have sent him for safety. Perhaps, however, he in fact returned to his former protector, Asterix. . I wear a pink and white 1930s dress from @cavallienastri and pink shoes from @uniquevintage; the parasol is more than an accessory here, as it was in excess of 105 degrees. . #cleopatra #ptolemy #romanhistory #octavian #caesarion #1930sdress #1930sfashion #truevintage #egyptianreligion #egyptiantemple #hathor #hellenistic #egyptologist #egyptology #ancientegypt #asterix #juliuscaesar #ancientrome #onthisday #onthisdayinhistory #womenshistory #womenleaders #pharaoh

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