Napoleonic Empire Style (1800-1815)

The Napoleonic Empire style is a design movement involving decorative arts and visual arts. It spread between 1800 and 1815, under 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. by Edouard Baldus , 1860s.  Albumen silver print from glass negative

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Origin and Diffusion

The Napoleonic Empire style took its name from Napoleon I, a style inspired by ancient Egypt and imperial Rome. Napoleon imposed a centralization on art controlling architects. In architecture it was exemplified by monuments as Chalgrin’s Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile. In painting, by Jacques-Louis David, and in sculpture, by Antonio Canova.

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

The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Joséphine , 1804

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Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker, Antonio Canova, 1806.

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20-franc piece, Napoleon I 1811 Medalist: Jean-Pierre Droz -Gold, French

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Napoleonic Empire Style Characteristics

If Directoire is Doric in nature, Napoleonic Empire is instead Corinthian. Napoleonic Empire Style’s interest in the architecture and decorative motifs of the Roman Empire is a key factor to this style. Chairs were made more for display. Etruscan and Egyptian motifs of Napoleonic Empire Style chairs included:

  • Greek key designs and painted Etruscan scenes;
  • Animal motifs;
  • Egyptian masks;
Design for an Empire Daybed 1800–1820- 19th century, Pen and ink with brown, red, yellow and green wash

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Secretaries, cabinets, and commodes,  important displays for this style are featured with:

  • Simplistic brass ornament, with classical leanings;
  • Marble tops;
  • Revolutionary-inspired motifs;
  • bees, sheaves of grain, and cornucopias symbols of prosperity;
Cabinet (commode à vantaux), ca. 1813–25– François-Honoré-Georges Jacob-Desmalter (French, 1770–1841)

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The French architects Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine designed furnishings for the estate rooms of Napoleon. Their ideas were written and made public in their “Recueil de décorations intérieures”. The main archaeological discoveries of the Empire style led to direct copying of classical themes in furniture and was added a new class of Egyptian ornament, liked the experiences of Napoleon in Egypt.

architect Charles Percier

Image source: by Rijksmuseum

Portrait of Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine, Joseph-Désiré Court

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