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Empire FurnitureEmpire French Furniture

With Napoleon crowning himself Emperor of France ending years of political instability came the dawn of the Empire Era. Empire style or First Empire was developed during the reign of Napoleon, the economy was booming and a new aristocracy was forming at his court, the letter 'N' was to be found everywhere during this time as decoration and in interiors. The style still had its roots in the Greco Roman movement which had begun with the neo classical period and extended through the time of Directoire furniture but we see a return of the bold with the rise of the Empire style.

Napoleon's new court was renowned for competing with its European neighbours, each trying to outdo the other with their extravagance. The sense of competition can be seen in furniture of the time as the general designs became grander and more majestic with a defined structure. Gone are the round romantic shapes and delicate carvings to be replaced with bold and formal, defined by pilasters, columns and bronze work. Egyptian motifs were still all the range but now marble tops were added to pieces. The use of sphinxes, classical urns and eagles were still very popular but we also see the introduction of the letter 'N' and the Bee. both symbols to represent Napoleon. 

The wreath, torch, Sphinx, Greek band, honeysuckle, Roman eagle, columns and scroll supports dominated design in Empire furniture. Classic lines and shapes and decorations in chiselled bronze, called ormolu, were notable attempts and a fond gesture to neoclassic style. The subjects for ormolu decorations were taken from Greek mythology and were often combined with emblems of liberty, lyres, rosettes, and so forth.

Furniture was embellished with fine inlaid brass figurines as marquetry and carving were discarded in favour of plain surfaces that were decorated with brass and ormolu mount featuring antique emblems. Mahogany was the go to wood of choice and veneering was used extensively.

Napoleon wanted to be surrounded by all the dignity and pomp associated with the great Roman generals, and those who served him catered to this wish. On his return Egypt furniture that was made for his palaces reflected the styles he had seen there and as such much of the furniture from the Late Empire period was really just a slavish imitation  of the original pieces. It is perhaps with this in mind that we begin to understand why era was dubbed least attractive of the neo classical period.


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