Brooch of Ancient Egyptian Scarab in a Modern Winged Mount

Brooch featuring an ancient scarab in a modern winged mount, scarab is ancient Egyptian, (scarab). New Kingdom, ca. 1539-1077 BC; (gold mount) early 1900s, glazed steatite and gold (modern), Mrs. Kingsmill Marrs Collection, Worcester Art Museum, 1926.86

One of the most popular motifs among revivalist jewelers was the scarab. These small beetles were powerful amulets in their day and represented the power and mystery of ancient Egypt to 19th- and 20th-century travelers to the Middle East.

Brooch of Ancient Egyptian Scarab in a Modern Winged Mount
Brooch of Ancient Egyptian Scarab in a Modern Winged Mount

In Ancient Egypt, the scarab was a symbol of resurrection, therefore it was strictly connected to rebirth in the Afterlife. Similar amulets were placed on mummies, positioned on the heart, in order to protect this organ.

In fact, ancient Egyptians believed that the heart of a person should have weighted like the feather of an ostrich (symbol of the goddess of justice Maat), to ensure that the deceased reached the Afterlife safe and sound.

The winged scarab was a powerful image of solar rebirth for the deceased. Amulets in the form of scarab beetles had become enormously popular in Ancient Egypt by the early Middle Kingdom (approx. 2000 BC) and remained popular for the rest of the pharaonic period and beyond.

Mummy scarabs are amulets only used in the mortuary cult. What makes them remarkable is that not only the rear view is detailed, but the underside with the legs was also worked. These scarabs were placed in the mummy wrappings.

The fortune of the dung beetle in Egyptian iconography is due not only to its almost geometric shape – the flat base of the beetle provides an ideal oval space for the engraving of an inscription – but also to its natural behavior, which made it associated with the sun and the concept of regeneration and resurrection.

In the Egyptian hieroglyphs the words for the scarab and for existence were identical (kheper). The name of the sun god, on his first appearance every morning, was Khepri. In hieroglyphs the scarab sign was used for all three words.

Many acquired these objects during their journeys and had them set in decorative mounts at home. In this case, the goldsmith has added a pair of wings, a reference perhaps to one of the jeweled necklaces of King Tutankhamun (1332–1323 BC).