Athanasius Kircher’s pyramids


Athanasius Kircher’s pyramids aren’t as vast as Thomas Cole’s dream construction—for size you need Kircher’s Tower of Babel—but they’re still eccentric inasmuch as they don’t correspond to any group of Egyptian structures. One of the great things about the etchings in Kircher’s books is the way their detail gives a sense of veracity to their depictions. Go slightly further back in time and you’ll find scenes that are just as eccentric but much more crudely rendered; go forward a few years and too much was known about ancient ruins to ever depict them this way again. The illustration is the frontispiece to Kircher’s Sphinx Mystagoga (1676) which can be seen in full at the University of Heidelberg. The details in Kircher’s illustrations benefit from the high-resolution scans.

Steve in the comments to yesterday’s post mentions another painting featuring an impossible view of architecture through the ages (pyramids included), The Professor’s Dream (1848) by Charles Robert Cockerell. BLDGBLOG ran a post about Cockrell’s paintings a couple of years ago.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The etching and engraving art archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Athanasius Kircher’s Tower of Babel
China Monumentis by Athanasius Kircher

4 thoughts on “Athanasius Kircher’s pyramids”

  1. the etchings in Kircher’s books is the way their detail gives a sense of veracity to their depictions.

    Merely corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.

  2. The Professor’s Dream is apparently at The Royal Academy but when we asked to see it the staff drew a blank – now they’ve got the print for sale on the site (I bought the biggest available, of course) they might have moved it to front of house?

    Re. Kircher – those scans are great, it’s all I can do not to right click and save them all…

  3. The St. Paul’s pediment may be a reference to the Pyramid of Cestius in Rome:

    Copied from the Egyptians, of course, but it helped tie pyramids to Classical architecture. There’s a lot of these tall Neo-Classical pyramids scattered around Britain. Nicholas Hawksmoor is responsible for some of the more notable ones at Castle Howard:,

    and in the grounds of his church at Limehouse:

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