Second Empire – Napoleon III Style (1865-1880)

The Second Empire Style can be traced back to France, specifically to the reign of Napoleon III.

Napoleon III Apartments, which has tall, red curtains, ornate chandeliers, and a large mirror above a fireplace.
The grand salon in Napoleon III’s Louvre apartment

Image source: by austinevan

Who Was Napoleon III?

Napoleon III, the nephew of Napoleon I, was the emperor of France from 1852 to 1870. Born in 1808 in Paris, France, he grew up in exile. However, he began his quest back to the throne in 1832, writing to let his ideas be known to the people. Finally, he became the Emperor of the Second French Empire, and he was the first President of France elected by a popular election.

A photo of the Louvre, on the right there is the glass pyramid, and there are tourists all around in the photo.
Napoleon Apartment Louvre Paris

Image source: by Wpgenar

Portrait of Napoleon III in traditional attire. Moreover, he has a long, skinny beard and pal white skin.
Portrait of Napoleon III by Yvon Adolphe

Image source: by wl.glazewski

Napoleon III modernized the French banking system, improved the railway system, and made the French merchant marines important at the international level. Napoleon III started the Franco-Prussian War (also called the Franco-German War). However, when the French Third Republic took over in Paris, Napoleon went into exile in England, and he died there in 1873.

Franco-Prussian war painting

Image source: by quinet

About the Style

Much of Paris was rethought under Napoleon III with large avenues and striking monumental buildings to replace medieval structures. The change in Paris, during the Second Empire style, had a strong impact on building design in Europe and the United States. The prototype for the Second Empire style is the Opera Garnier, in Paris, designed by Charles Garnier.

Paris Opera full frontal architecture, May 2009. There are two golden statues along the top, and the roof of the building is green.
Opera House by Charles Garnier, begun 1861.

Image source: by Peter Rivera

The Second Empire Style in Europe

In Europe, this style is particularly evident in:

  • This style heavily influenced both Paris and Vienna in the late 19th century.
Burgtheater, Vienna, designed by Gottfried Semper and Karl Freiherr von Hasenauer and completed in 1888, is a prime example of the Second Empire style.
Burgtheater (1888) by Gottfried Semper and Karl Freiherr von Hasenauer

Image source: by Reading Tom

  • Rome saw the employment of this style after the Risorgimento. The Bank of Italy by Gaetano Koch is an important example.
Palazzo Koch on Via Nazionale in Rome is the headquarters of Banca d'Italia, the National Bank of Italy.
Palazzo Koch (1883) designed by Banca Nazionale

Image source:’Italia_-_panoramio_(2).jpg

  • In Britain, this style can be seen in the Methodist Central Hall, in Westminster, designed by Edwin Alfred Rickards.
Methodist Central Hall: A large, dome building with columns.
Methodist Central Hall, Westminster (1911)

Image source: by Nigel Cox

  • In Germany, most of the apartments and public buildings of the period, are examples of the style, including the Reichstag building, in Berlin.
Reichstag Building in Berlin: A large, building with columns along the front, and two halls on either side with towers at either end of the building.
Reichstag Building in Berlin

Image source: by Groman123

In the United States and Canada

In the United States, buildings related to this style were the Old City Hall, in Boston and the State, War, and Navy Department Building, in Washington, D.C.

Old Executive Office Building, Washington, D.C. : A big white building with 5 floors.
The State, War, and Navy Department Building, Washington, D.C.

Image source: by Ken Lund

Key Features

The general characteristics to identify this style were:

  • Mansard roofs
  • Entry porch with a stoop
  • Marble fireplaces with arched openings
  • Tall arched windows with cornices
  • Paired Columns
  • Exterior veranda with balustrades


Info source:
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