Empire style

Empire style, manner of French interior decoration and costume which evolved from the Directoire style. Designated Empire because of its identification with the reign of Napoleon I, it was largely inspired by his architects Percier and Fontaine. Traditional classical motifs, already seen in the reign of Louis XVI, were supplemented by symbols of imperial grandeur—the emperor's monogram and his emblem, the bee; representations of military trophies; and after the successful campaigns in Egypt, Egyptian motifs. Furniture was characterized by clear-cut silhouettes and symmetry in decoration. Pedestal tables with claw feet and gondola, or sleigh, beds were in vogue. The staple wood was mahogany, solid or veneer; brass and ormolu mounts were the chief embellishments. Stucco decoration or painted classical motifs often enriched the walls; the ceilings were plain. The style continued in fashion until c.1830. A simplified form was adopted in England and the United States; a German bourgeois adaptation is known as Biedermeier. The empress Josephine introduced the high-waisted court dress with train, which shows Greek influence. Men began to wear full-length trousers and polished top hats. The style of the first Empire is to be distinguished from that of the second (1852–70), which was gaudy and ostentatious.

See S. Grandjean, Empire Furniture: 1800–1825 (1966) and P. E. W. Cunnington, Costumes of the Nineteenth Century (1971).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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