Napoleonic Empire Style (1800-1815)

The Napoleonic Empire style is a design movement involving decorative arts, and visual arts. It spreaded 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.
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://www.pbase.com/image/46637114

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 onuments 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, Federal style in the United States, and the Regency style in Britain. The previous style in France was called Louis XVI style.

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 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;
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

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;
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

Architects

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 to the experiences of Napoleon in Egypt.

Portrait of Charles Percier.
Portrait of Charles Percier.

Image source: https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Percier

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

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empire_style

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

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