Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Ah ! L`Empire !


Percier and Fontaine have achieved to create in a short period a omnipresent style and a piece of continuous regime propaganda, with a a unprecedented creativity around a single theme and obsession:- "Retour à L´Antique";- "Retour à L´Egypt"- and dedicated continuously and daily on promoting "Tous les Gloires de la France"
J´Adore L´Empire ! Yours ... Jeeves









It may be said that Percier and Fontaine are the creators of the official Empire style; they understood this epoch when national pride and war-like enthusiasm filled the air. The style of furniture which they conceived, with its broad austere surfaces defined by straight lines and sharp edges and on which they displayed golden Greek palm leaves and wreaths of laurel to crown the victor’s brow, or figures of victory with outspread wings and flowing robes, was admirably suited to Imperial France.



The Empire style, sometimes considered the second phase of Neoclassicism, is an early-19th-century design movement in architecture, furniture, other decorative arts, and the visual arts followed in Europe and America up to around 1830. The style originated in and takes its name from the period when Napoleon I ruled France, known as the First French Empire, where it was intended to idealize Napoleon's leadership and the French state. The style corresponds to the Biedermeier style in the German-speaking lands, Federal style in the United States and to the Regency style in Britain. An earlier phase of the style was called the Adam style in Great Britain and "Louis Seize" or Louis XVI, in France.
Two french architects, Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine, were together the creators of the french empire style. They had studied in Rome and in the 1790s, they became leading furniture designers in Paris. They received a lot of requests from Napoleon. [1]
The Empire style was based on aspects of the Roman Empire and its many archaeological treasures which had been rediscovered starting in the 18th century. The preceding Louis XVI and Directoire styles employed straighter, simpler designs in comparison with the Rococo style of the 18th century. Empire designs heavily influenced the American Federal style (such as the United States Capitol building), and both were forms of propaganda through architecture. It was a style of the people, not ostentatious but sober and evenly balanced. The style was considered to have "liberated" and "enlightened" architecture just as Napoleon "liberated" the peoples of Europe with his Napoleonic Code.
The Empire period was popularized by the inventive designs of Percier and Fontaine, Napoleon's architects for Malmaison. The designs drew heavily for inspiration on symbols and ornaments borrowed from the glorious ancient Greek and Roman empires. Buildings typically had simple timber frames and box-like constructions, veneered in expensive mahogany imported from the colonies. Biedermeier furniture also made use of ebony details, originally due to financial constraints. Ormolu details (gilded bronze furniture mounts and embellishments) displayed a high level of craftsmanship.







The French ébéniste recognized the necessity for decorating the large even surfaces of dark shining mahogany with gilt bronze mounts depicting a race of strange creatures. Everywhere are found winged sphinxes, winged lions and chimeras of every kind, often with heads of eagles, employed as table legs and chair armposts. Swans employed as armposts or as entire arms of chairs forming the legs with their bodies and the arms with their wings. The bronzes are often notable for the ingenious symmetry of their composition, the clarity of their lines, the effectiveness of their light silhouette against a dark ground, and above all for their chasing and gilding, which in the fine pieces, such as some of the bronzes by Thomire, are superb. Practically all the motifs that are found in these bronze mounts are borrowed from antique Greco-Roman or Egyptian art. There is a multitude of objects of every kind, gleaned from altars, tombs, Pompeian mural decoration, and even Roman goldsmith work. Such are antique heads, cornucopias, the winged thunderbolt of Jupiter, Neptune’s trident, Mercury’s caduceus, Bacchus’ thyrsus, casques, lamps, tripods, kraters, amphorae, winged torches, and musical instruments. Then there are emblems of victory, war-like emblems and Imperial emblems, motifs from the animal world and floral motifs, of which poppies are much favored.






Most of the knowledge of antique furniture had to be acquired by studying classical prototypes represented on bas-reliefs, vase paintings, and mural decorations. Hence, Fontaine et Percier realized that it was almost impossible to remain completely faithful to antiquity, since it was necessary to create almost everything and adapt the remainder to modern needs.

















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