Napoleonic Empire Style (1800-1815)

The Napoleonic Empire style is an early nineteenth Century design movement in architecture, furniture, decorative arts, and visual arts that flourished between 1800 and 1815 during the Reign of Napoleon I.

The Arc de Triomphe of the Place de l'Étoile, probably the most famous example of Empire architecture, commissioned in 1806 after the victory at Austerlitz by Emperor Napoleon I.
The Arc de Triomphe of the Place de l’Étoile, probably the most famous example of Empire architecture, commissioned in 1806 after the victory at Austerlitz by Emperor Napoleon I. Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empire_style#/media/File:Arc_De_Triomphe_.jpg

 

ORIGIN AND DIFFUSION:

The Napoleonic Empire style originated in and takes its name from Napoleon I, encouraged by the desire of a style inspired by the grandeur of ancient Egypt and imperial Rome.

  • In architecture it was exemplified by such Parisian buildings and monuments as the Church of the Madeleine (originally the Temple of Glory) by Pierre-Alexandre Vignon, Jean Chalgrin’s Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile;
  • in painting, by Jacques-Louis David’s Sacre de l’empereur Napoléon Ier et couronnement de l’impératrice Joséphine dans la cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, 2 décembre 1804 and Baron Antoine Gros’s battle scenes;
  • and in sculpture, by Antonio Canova’s heroic statues of Napoleon and his family.

The style corresponds in that intent to the Biedermeier style in the German-speaking lands, Federal style in the United States, and the Regency style in Britain. The previous style in France was called Louis XVI style.


Info source: https://www.britannica.com/art/Empire-style; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empire_style

 

The Church of the Madeleine, Paris, begun in 1806 by Pierre-Alexandre Vignon
The Church of the Madeleine, Paris, begun in 1806 by Pierre-Alexandre Vignon. Image source: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Madeleine-church-Paris-France
Sacre de l'empereur Napoléon Ier et couronnement de l'impératrice Joséphine dans la cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, le 2 décembre 1804
Sacre de l’empereur Napoléon Ier et couronnement de l’impératrice Joséphine dans la cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, le 2 décembre 1804. Image source: http://www.louvre.fr
Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker, Antonio Canova, 1806. Image source:
Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker, Antonio Canova, 1806.
Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napoleon_as_Mars_the_Peacemaker

 

NAPOLEONIC EMPIRE CHARACTERISTICS:

If Directoire (1795-1799) is Doric in nature, Napoleonic Empire is definitely Corinthian.

Napoleonic Empire Style’s evocation of the architecture and decorative motifs of the Roman Empire is not coincidence: revived the spirit of the Roman Empire was of particular significance.

Chairs:

It can be said that chairs were made more for display than for comfort or function. The bigger and bolder, the better.

Fanciful Etruscan and Egyptian motifs of Napoleonic Empire Style chairs included:

  • Greek key designs and painted Etruscan scenes
  • Animal motifs: monopodium legs, lion’s paw feet, and wings
  • Generous gilding and metalwork
  • Veneering, cast metalwork, buhl-work and inlay
  • Chinoiserie and lacquer-work
  • Egyptian masks, lotus flowers, palmettos and poppies

info source: https://www.onekingslane.com/info/home/empire-style-chairs-1800-1820/

 

An Napoleonic Empire-style armchair with gilt and swept, scrolled arms.
An Napoleonic Empire-style armchair with gilt and swept, scrolled arms. Image source: https://www.onekingslane.com/info/home/empire-style-chairs-1810
Armchair by Jacob-Desmalter, Paris, 1803-1813
Armchair by Jacob-Desmalter, Paris, 1803-1813. Image source: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/

 

Secretaries, cabinets, and commodes include:

  • Mahogany-veneered furniture with ormolu mounts assumed the shapes of Roman, Greek, and Egyptian chairs and tables with winged-lion supports and pilasters headed with sphinxes, busts, or palm leaves.
  • Simplistic brass ornament, with classical leanings, styles that would have “appeared familiar to a Roman senator or to an Egyptian courtier.”
  • Marble tops
  • Revolutionary-inspired inlay, like arrow motifs, clasped hands, and Greek key patterns
  • Veneer
  • bees, sheaves of grain, and cornucopias for prosperity; and fasces and sphinxes for conquest.
  • The initials “I” and a large “N.”
A black and gilt Empire-style writing table.
A black and gilt Empire-style writing table. Image source: https://www.onekingslane.com/info/home/empire-style-chairs-1800-1815
Napoleonic empire style commode, 1810
Napoleonic empire style commode, 1810. Image source: http://www.museumfurniture.com/empire/#commode
Secretary in Napoleonic empire style, 1800-1815
Secretary in Napoleonic empire style, 1800-1815. Image source:http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/empr/hd_empr.html
Table in Napoleonic empire style, 1810
Table in Napoleonic empire style, 1810. Image source: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/empr/hd_empr.html

 

Architects:

The French architects Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine, who designed furnishings for the state rooms of Napoleon, contributed in great measure to the creation of the Empire style of interior decoration and furniture design.

Their ideas were incorporated and propagated in their “Recueil de décorations intérieures” (1801 and 1812; “Collection of Interior Decoration”).

The strong archaeological bias of the Empire style led to direct copying of classical types of furniture and accessories; to this was added a new repertory of Egyptian ornament, stimulated by Napoleon’s campaigns in Egypt.

Info source: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/empr/hd_empr.htm

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