Second Empire – Napoleon III Style (1865-1880)

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

Napoleon III Apartments
The grand salon in Napoleon III’s Louvre apartment.

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/c680577a-c185-4776-8a1e-c6514af81bb3 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. He began his quest to gain back the throne in 1832, writing to let his ideas be known to the people. He became the Emperor of the Second French Empire. He was the first President of France elected by a popular election.

File:Napoleon Apt Louvre Paris 2008oct08.jpg
Napoleon Apartment Louvre Paris

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/5632b15a-39ec-4bcd-a9e5-ee438dda2f01 by Wpgenar

Yvon Adolphe - Portrait of Napoleon III
Portrait of Napoleon III- Yvon Adolphe

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/e2dcb1a8-498a-464c-8e0e-752ebf621d1b by wl.glazewski

Napoleon III made modern the French banking system, improved the railway system, and made the French merchant marine one of the most important in the world. Napoleon III started the Franco-Prussian War (also called the Franco-German War). The French Third Republic was proclaimed in Paris, and Napoleon went into exile in England, he died there in 1873.

Franco-Prussian war
Franco-Prussian war

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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, projected by Charles Garnier.

Paris Opera full frontal architecture, May 2009
Opera House, Paris, by Charles Garnier, begun 1861.

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/b4471648-d5bf-4184-a306-5e2783d9bdc6 by Peter Rivera

The Second Empire Style In Europe

In Europe, this style is particularly evident in:

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

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/53793933-5277-4a36-8c77-993a744f941a by Reading Tom

  • Rome also saw the employment of this style after the Risorgimento, and Bank of Italy by Gaetano Koch is an important example.
Banca d'Italia - panoramio (2).jpg
Palazzo Koch on Via Nazionale in Rome is the headquarters of Banca d’Italia, the National Bank of Italy. 1883 ,by combining Banca Nazionale

Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palazzo_Koch#/media/File:Banca_d’Italia_-_panoramio_(2).jpg

  • In Britain, this style can be seen in the Methodist Central Hall, in Westminster, projected by Edwin Alfred Rickards.
File:Westminster, Methodist Central Hall - geograph.org.uk - 268563.jpg
Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, completed in 1911.

Image source:https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/3d0a67fe-10b2-41bc-9167-7c0592d093ae by Nigel Cox

  • In Germany, most of the apartments and public buildings of the period, are examples, including the Reichstag building, in Berlin.
Reichstag Building in Berlin
Reichstag Building in Berlin

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/8921aaa1-8c40-4a3a-91ed-4011973e0642 by Groman123

In 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.
The State, War, and Navy Department Building, Washington, D.C.

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/87a20dea-0c48-4816-ab14-7e24895ba131 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;
  • Columns were usually paired;
  • Exterior veranda with balustrades.


Info source:

https://www.britannica.com/art/Second-Empire-style