Thursday 30 November 2023

Ridley Scott’s Napoleon: how accurate is the movie?


Ridley Scott’s Napoleon: how accurate is the movie? The real history explained


The latest historical epic from Ridley Scott, Napoleon tells of the rise and fall of the French emperor, and explores his tumultuous relationship with Joséphine de Beauharnais. How closely does it match the real history?


Kev Lochun Published: November 22, 2023 at 10:27 AMTreat yourself or someone special to book when you subscribe to BBC History Magazine


Ridley Scott’s latest historical epic Napoleon is a warts-and-all biopic of the much-maligned French emperor, arriving in cinemas on 22 November and then later on streaming service Apple TV+.


Joaquin Phoenix is Napoleon Bonaparte, playing emperor for a second time in a Ridley Scott magnum opus (he also portrayed the Roman emperor Commodus in 2000’s Gladiator) while Vanessa Kirby of The Crown fame takes the role of his first wife, Empress Joséphine.


*Note: this article contains spoilers for Napoleon (dir. Ridley Scott, 2023)*


The film is not short of lynchpin moments. It spans much of Bonaparte’s adult life, rippling from the end of the French Revolution and the execution of Marie Antoinette – when he was but an artillery captain – right through to his death during his second exile on St Helena in 1821.


Perhaps predictably, it rattles through time. Entire campaigns pass in the blink of an eye. You would not know that Napoleon fought some 60 battles, nor that he faced five coalitions of Allied powers during his time as emperor. This is not a faithful retelling of the Napoleonic Wars. This is stretched-thin Napoleonic phwoar, a spectacle of pomp surrounding a man who brought Europe to its knees.


As such, there are plenty of unanswered questions, the meatiest of which we’ve tackled below. Not seen the film yet? Here is Napoleonic historian Zack White giving his thoughts on what you should expect based on the film’s first trailer.


Broadly, yes – in the sense that Napoleon, and all the major players in the film, are real historic figures, and that events very loosely played out as they do on screen. But as always, the devil is in the detail.


Take the assertion of the film publicity: ‘He came from nothing. He conquered everything’. Neither of these things are true, says Napoleon historian Zack White.


Much is made, both in real-life British propaganda and in the film, of Napoleon being a ‘Corsican ruffian’; a man with a funny way of talking and lacking in refinement.


“Napoleon came from minor nobility on the island of Corsica,” says White. “That meant that he was not a mover and shaker in social society in France before the French Revolution.”


Nonetheless, being of the nobility – however minor – gave Napoleon a crucial leg up. “It meant that he was a somebody, and particularly importantly, it meant his father could send him to military academy to be educated in France,” says White.


“In practical terms, what that meant was that Napoleon had a head start. He had a career that was gifted to him as part of the efforts of the French King to ingratiate the minor nobility and build a section of society that was indebted to the king.”


What happened at the siege of Toulon?

“The idea that Napoleon led the siege of Toulon is something that sees Ridley Scott play on Napoleonic myth – but like all good myths, it has a very significant kernel of truth behind it,” says White.


Toulon, a port city on the French Riviera, had turned against the revolution in favour of the monarchy, and invited the British to take control of the French fleet that was moored there.


“Napoleon always had an eye for terrain, and it didn't take him long to do two significant things. The first was to reorganise the artillery, which he did with staggering speed and the energy that would be so typical of much of his career. But he also managed to identify a key weak spot in the British defences.”


The weak spot was one particular redoubt which, if captured, could dominate the inner harbour. Take the redoubt, and the British position would become untenable. And that is exactly what Napoleon did.


“Napoleon was somebody who, at this point, was inclined to get hands-on, and so he personally led one of the attacks on this redoubt and was wounded in the thigh. Had the bayonet gone a few inches in the opposite direction, Napoleon may very well have died.”


Did Napoleon fire into a crowd during the Vendémiaire Uprising?

When the Napoleon of Ridley Scott’s film agrees to quell the Vendémiaire Uprising – a royalist revolt on the street of Paris in October 1795 – it’s on the condition that it is done his way.


What we then see is a crowd shuffling towards Napoleon’s artillery, which stands between them and the government buildings; a stone-faced Napoleon signals his men to fire straight into them, a moment that has become known as the ‘whiff of grapeshot’.


“The way in which the Vendémiaire Uprising is portrayed in the film is interesting,” says White. “You're having to look at [Napoleon’s] actions and decide whether or not you actually feel okay with that.”


There is a cautionary note to this tale. “It's often said that this was predominantly a crowd of women and children, and that isn't entirely fair. There were a lot of armed royalists – if not trained professional soldiers, certainly a well-armed militia – that were willing to engage in this fight.


“The nature of grapeshot is that it is very effective as an anti-personnel weapon. It does effectively clear the streets, and Napoleon gets rewarded for that.


“It's because of this incident that he's then appointed as commander of the army in Italy, so this whole episode is seen as really key to Napoleon's rise to power.”


What was the nature of Napoleon and Joséphine’s relationship?

Joséphine du Beauharnais cuts a powerful figure throughout the movie, fulfilling a vital role for the tactically brilliant but socially inept Napoleon. But their relationship is fiery, a love story stacked atop neediness, infidelity, and manipulations.


They met in 1795; she was a widower, six years older than Napoleon, and at that time the mistress of Directory member Paul Barras.


“Is my life about to change?” the Joséphine of the film quips. For Napoleon it certainly did.


“While the young general was completely besotted, sending her love letter after love letter, Joséphine remained ambivalent,” says historian Laura O’Brien of the real Napoleon. “She eventually agreed to marry him, recognising that he was on the rise and that he might provide security and protection.”


These love letters, notes White, were so agonizingly intense and naïve that they “give an indication of his immaturity when it came to questions of love”.


Yet in many respects, White adds, Joséphine was Napoleon’s rock.


“For all that there were issues with the relationship, and for all the insecurity and infidelity time and again on both sides, there was a really key role that Joséphine could play.


“She was a hugely intelligent, very adept, very shrewd and also very beautiful woman, and she was able to use her many charms in order to help ingratiate herself with people by becoming Empress of France. She was able to move in certain circles and create soft levels of influence.”


She also had more than purely a ceremonial role, White notes, something that viewers won’t see in the film. “When Napoleon went off to invade Russia in 1812, he fundamentally left Joséphine in charge. She was the one who had to sign off on the edicts of the French government.”


Even after their annulment, she remained his lifelong confidant.


Did Napoleon fire on the pyramids?

Fought in 1798 during the Egypt campaign, the Battle of the pyramids was such a shock to the Mamluks that they subsequently abandoned Cairo, allowing Napoleon to enter the city almost unopposed.


Napoleon shows Bonaparte drawing his battle lines under the proverbial shadow of the Great Pyramid of Giza – which he then directly fires upon, sending portions of rock raining down on the Mamluk cavalry.


That didn’t happen – the pyramids were within view, but no closer.


“The battle itself takes place about seven miles away from the pyramids themselves,” says White, “well outside effective artillery range for the period”.


Some viewers may be disappointed to learn that Napoleon didn’t shoot the nose off the Sphinx, either.


Was Napoleon short?

After the Battle of the pyramids, Napoleon’s men open a pharaoh’s sarcophagus and – wishing to stand face-to-face with the mummy within – he is forced to stand on a box so he can stare into its wizened visage.


It’s a throwaway moment that plays on the age old (some might say tired, others Gillray-esque) joke that the real Bonaparte was shorter than the average fellow.


“It taps into that myth that Napoleon was 5’ 2” and had the so-called ‘Napoleon complex’ as a result,” says White.


“In terms of standard measure – because different nations used different lengths of measurement at this time – Napoleon was a little bit over 5’ 6”, which made him just above the average height of the standard French infantryman during the battle of Waterloo.”


Did Napoleon really crown himself?

At his coronation as Emperor of the French in December 1804, Ridley Scott’s Napoleon shows Bonaparte snatching up the crown and placing it atop his own head, drawing stifled gasps from the onlooking throng.


But did he really do it? You bet he did.


“It's portrayed as a hugely controversial move because it was a hugely controversial move,” says White. “Napoleon knew how to make a statement, and the crowning of himself was the epitome of that kind of statement because the Pope was in attendance.


“He is almost slapping the Pope in the face by saying: ‘You are not the most significant person in the room. My authority is greater because I'm the representative of the French people.’”


Did Napoleon believe himself to be equivalent to Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar?

Certainly, Napoleon likens himself to both Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar in the film, and the real-life Napoleon insisted that neoclassical sculptor Antonia Canova craft a heroic nude of himself as the Roman god Mars.


But unpicking how Napoleon feels about himself and his own place in history is complicated, says White, because Napoleon was a master propagandist.battle of Austerlitz


“He was certainly inclined to position himself as somebody on a par with Alexander or Caesar,” says White. And after his second exile to St Helena, and he was able to cast himself in the guise of such men by having the luxury of telling his own story.


“Despite being the loser, Napoleon is the exception to the rule that history is written by the winners,” says White, “because he was able to dictate [his memoirs] at length, to ruminate and to cast blame and aspersions on those who failed him.”


In the latest in our series charting the contested reputations of key historical figures, Laura O’Brien and David Andress discuss French military and political leader Napoleon Bonaparte, and explore why his story still proves divisive two centuries later




Did Napoleon’s mother force him to have an affair?

A surprise presence, absent from any of the publicity, is Napoleon’s mother Letizia Bonaparte.


In Ridley Scott’s film, the inference is that Napoleon retains a strong deference to his mother even after he becomes emperor, alongside a faintly Oedipal whiff that he sees his mother in Joséphine.


But their standout interaction comes when Letizia cajoles a bashful Napoleon into having a one-night stand – already waiting in bed for him at the other end of the corridor – to ‘settle’ the issue of whether his lack of an heir is down to him or Joséphine once and for all.


Did it happen? The bedding incident is most likely a fabrication, and even in the film Napoleon admits to having already had affairs long before this incident. In real-life, these affairs had already resulted in illegitimate offspring.


What is true, writes historian Laura O’Brien, is that the Bonapartes “loathed the ‘old woman’ [as they referred to Joséphine] they felt had stolen him from the clan” and did actively try to turn Napoleon’s eye to other likely prospects – though this tended to be the machinations of his siblings, not his mother.


Did thousands drown at the battle of Austerlitz?

One of Napoleon’s greatest victories is also the scene of one of his greatest myths. The battle of Austerlitz, fought in 1805 against the combined forces of Russian tsar Alexander I and Austrian emperor Francis I, cemented Napoleon’s reputation as a military genius.


Ridley Scott’s film cleaves to popular myth: that Napoleon funnels the Austro-Russian army onto an iced-over lake, something they only realise when the cannonballs start raining down. Thousands drown in what can only be described as a chilling demise.


The trouble is, there was no great lake – only a handful of fishing ponds. “Napoleon knew how many men had been killed in this manner because he ordered them to be drained himself,” says White. “The French found plenty of wagons and plenty of horses in those lakes, and only found two bodies.”


The real Napoleon never intended to trap the Austrian and Russian army on a lake, but this is where the propagandist re-emerges.


“He seized upon that opportunity of a PR and propaganda coup to make it look as though that had always been part of the plan,” says White. “That he was suckering the enemy into being exactly in the position where he wanted them to in order to make them all die in a particularly grizzly and horrendous way.”


Did Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington meet?

The 1815 battle of Waterloo is among the defining moments of the Napoleonic Wars, marking both Napoleon’s final defeat and the last battles of both Napoleon and his British nemesis, the Duke of Wellington.


Wellington and Napoleon are often – both in Ridley Scott’s Napoleon and elsewhere – portrayed as the best of enemies, and here they come face-to-face aboard the HMS Bellerophon shortly before Napoleon is packed off to St Helena.


But it is a meeting that never happened. Nor did it happen anywhere else.


“The reality is that Wellington was a reasonably subsidiary and insignificant figure until much later in the Napoleonic Wars; it's only with his success in Spain and Portugal that Wellington rises to a position where he is respected across Europe.”


“They never came close to meeting. The nearest they ever got, and in fact, the only time they ever fought one another was at the battle of Waterloo,” says White. “In the closing stages they come within about half a mile of one another.”


What happened to Napoleon’s second wife, Marie-Louise of Austria?

Joséphine. Joséphine. Joséphine. In the film she rides roughshod through Napoleon’s mind, even after their marriage is annulled, and it is to her his mind turns as he dies. What then of the woman he sets Joséphine aside for, the Habsburg archduchess Marie-Louise?


In both the film and real-life, Napoleon’s quest for an heir prompts him to seek the hand of another. “There could have been no more desirable marriage candidate,” says historian Deborah Jay of Marie-Louise. “She was related to practically every ruling dynasty in Europe.”


Marie-Louise would both bear Napoleon the son he craved and become his loyal devotee, siding with France even after her father allied with Russia against her husband.


“By March 1814, Marie-Louise stood alone as regent of France, forced to decide whether she should confront her father and his allies – who were poised to march on Paris – or flee to Loire Valley, Centre-Val de Loire, as urged by her husband’s cowardly ministers. Her courage and heroism could not help her.


“Separated from Napoleon, she and her son were forced to return to Vienna as refugees,” writes Jay. “After a hard campaign, Marie-Louise was finally granted the duchies of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla promised her by the allies to secure her husband’s first abdication.”


She set out for Parma in 1816, though her time as duchess would be a precarious one.


How did Napoleon die?

In the film, Napoleon gently keels over in exile on St Helena, after dispensing a final bit of propaganda about who burned down Moscow in 1812 after the battle of Borodino (it wasn’t Napoleon; the Russians did it themselves), but the fate of the emperor might be murkier.


“The day after his death in British custody on 5 May 1821, 16 observers attended the autopsy, seven doctors among them,” writes Siân Rees, author of The Many Deaths of Napoleon Bonaparte. “They were unanimous in their conclusion: Napoleon had died of stomach cancer.”


That has not stopped the doubts and theories that the French emperor might have met an early end – either at the behest of the British or his French rivals – or indeed that Napoleon never arrived on St Helena at all.


Napoleon arrives in UK and US cinemas on 22 November 2023 in conjunction with Sony Pictures Releasing, before streaming on Apple TV+ at a later date.




Kev Lochun

Deputy Digital Editor, HistoryExtra

Kev Lochun is Deputy Digital Editor of and previously Deputy Editor of BBC History Revealed. As well as commissioning content from expert historians, he can also be found interviewing them on the award-winning HistoryExtra podcast.

The rediscovery of egypt by Napoleon's Expedition ... J.F.Champollion ... D.Vivant Denon.

The Egyptian Campaign (1798–1801) was Napoleon Bonaparte's campaign in "The Orient", ostensibly to protect French trade interests, undermine Britain's access to India, and to establish scientific enterprise in the region. It was the primary purpose of the Mediterranean campaign of 1798, a series of naval engagements that included the capture of Malta. Despite many decisive victories and an initially successful expedition into Syria, Napoleon and his Armée d'Orient were eventually forced to withdraw, after mounting political disharmony in France, conflict in Europe, and the defeat of the supporting French Fleet at the Battle of the Nile. Jean-François Champollion (23 December 1790 – 4 March 1832) was a French classical scholar, philologist and orientalist, decipherer of the Egyptian hieroglyphs. Champollion published the first translation of the Rosetta Stone hieroglyphs in 1822, showing that the Egyptian writing system was a combination of phonetic and ideographic signs. Champollion was born in Figeac, Lot, the last of seven children (two of whom had already died before he was born). He was raised in humble circumstances; because his parents could not afford to send him to school, and he was taught to read by his brother Jacques. Jacques, although studious and largely self-educated, did not have Jean-François' genius for language; however, he was talented at earning a living, and supported Jean-François for most of his life. He lived with his brother in Grenoble for several years, and even as a child showed an extraordinary linguistic talent. By the age of 16 he had mastered a dozen languages and had read a paper before the Grenoble Academy concerning the Coptic language. By 20 he could also speak Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Amharic, Sanskrit, Avestan, Pahlavi, Arabic, Syriac, Chaldean, Persian and Ge'ez in addition to his native French. In 1809, he became assistant-professor of History at Grenoble University. His interest in oriental languages, especially Coptic, led to his being entrusted with the task of deciphering the writing on the then recently-discovered Rosetta Stone, and he spent the years 1822–1824 on this task. His 1824 work Précis du système hiéroglyphique gave birth to the entire field of modern Egyptology. He also identified the importance of the Turin King List, and dated the Dendera zodiac to the Roman period. His interest in Egyptology was originally inspired by Napoleon's Egyptian Campaigns 1798–1801. Champollion was subsequently made Professor of Egyptology at the Collège de France. Egyptian hieroglyphs Thomas Young was one of the first to attempt decipherment of the Egyptian hieroglyphs, basing his own work on the investigations of Swedish diplomat Åkerblad, though he failed to fully decipher the script, Young was able to translate some of the stone leading the way for Champollion to begin his own investigations. In 1822, Champollion finally published the first correct translation of the hieroglyphs and the key to the grammatical system. Young and all others praised this work. Franco-Tuscan Expedition In 1827 Ippolito Rosellini, considered the founder of Egyptology in Italy, went to Paris for a year in order to improve his knowledge of the method of decipherment proposed by Champollion. The two philologists decided to organize an expedition to Egypt to confirm the validity of the discovery. Headed by Champollion and assisted by Rosellini his first disciple and great friend, the mission was known as the Franco-Tuscan Expedition, and was made possible by the support of the grand-duke of Tuscany, Leopold II, and the King of France, Charles X. On the 21st of July 1828, with four members, they boarded the ship Eglé at Toulon and set sail for Egypt. They travelled upstream along the Nile and studied an exhaustive number of monuments and inscriptions. The expedition led to a posthumously-published extensive Monuments de l'Égypte et de la Nubie (1845). Unfortunately, Champollion's expedition was blemished by unchecked looting. Most notably, while studying the Valley of the Kings, he damaged KV17, the tomb of Seti I, by removing a wall pannel of 2.26 x 1.05 m in a corridor while other elements were removed by his companion Rossellini or the German expedition of 1845. The scenes are now in the collections of the Louvre, the museums of Florence and Berlin. During his stay, the Khedive of Egypt, Muhammad Ali Pasha, offered the two obelisks standing at the entrance of Luxor Temple to France in 1829, but only one was transported to Paris where it now stands on the Place de la Concorde. Exhausted by his labours during and after his scientific expedition to Egypt, Champollion died of an apoplectic attack in Paris in 1832 at the age of 41. He is buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery. Certain portions of Champollion's works were edited by his elder brother, Jacques Joseph Champollion-Figeac; Jacques Joseph's son, Aimé-Louis (1812–1894), wrote a biography of the two brothers. Dominique Vivant, Baron de Denon (4 January 1747–27 April 1825) was a French artist, writer, diplomat, author, and archaeologist. He was appointed first director of the Louvre Museum by Napoleon after the Egyptian campaign of 1798-1801. Born at Givry, Saône-et-Loire, Denon was sent to Paris to study law, but he showed a decided preference for art and literature, and soon gave up his profession. In his twenty-third year he produced a comedy, Le Bon Pré, which obtained a succès d'estime, as he had already won a position in society by his agreeable manners and exceptional conversational powers. He became a favorite of Louis XV, who entrusted him with the collection and arrangement of a cabinet of medals and antique gems for Madame de Pompadour, and subsequently appointed him attaché to the French embassy at St. Petersburg. Diplomatic career On the accession of Louis XVI, Denon was transferred to Sweden; but he returned, after a brief interval, to Paris with the ambassador M. de Vergennes, who had been appointed foreign minister. In 1775 Denon was sent on a special mission to Switzerland, and took the opportunity of visiting Voltaire at Ferney. He made a portrait of the philosopher, which was engraved and published on his return to Paris. His next diplomatic appointment was to Naples, where he spent seven years, first as secretary to the embassy and afterwards as chargé d'affaires. He devoted this period to a careful study of the monuments of ancient art, collecting many specimens and making drawings of others. He also perfected himself in etching and mezzotinto engraving. While in Naples he met Sir William and Lady Hamilton and he etched Lady Hamilton 'posing'. The death of his patron, M. de Vergennes, in 1787, led to his recall, and the rest of his life was given mainly to artistic pursuits. On his return to Paris he was admitted a member of the Académie de peinture et de sculpture (1787). After a brief interval he returned to Italy, living chiefly at Venice. He also visited Florence and Bologna, and afterwards went to Switzerland. While there he heard that his property had been confiscated, and his name placed on the list of the proscribed, and with characteristic courage he resolved at once to return to Paris: his situation was critical, but he was spared, thanks to the friendship of the painter David, who obtained for him a commission to furnish designs for republican costumes. When the Revolution was over, Denon was one of the bands of eminent men who frequented the house of Madame de Beauharnais. Here he met Bonaparte, to whose fortunes he wisely attached himself. Egypt and the Louvre At Bonaparte's invitation he joined the expedition to Egypt as part of the arts and literature section of the Institut d'Égypte, and thus found the opportunity of gathering the materials for his most important literary and artistic work. He accompanied General Desaix to Upper Egypt, and made numerous sketches of the monuments of ancient art, sometimes under the very fire of the enemy. The results were published in his Voyage dans la basse et la haute Egypte (Journey in Lower and Upper Egypt), published as two volumes in 1802. The work crowned his reputation both as an archaeologist and as an artist, and sparked the Egyptian Revival in architecture and decorative arts. (See: Egyptian revival architecture and Egyptian revival decorative arts) Pavillon Denon at Le Louvre Museum. In 1804 he was appointed by Napoleon to the important office of director-general of museums and head of the new Musée Napoléon, which he filled until the Allied occupation of Paris in 1814, when he had to retire. He was a devoted servant of Napoleon, on whose behalf he personally looted vast numbers of works of art in Italy, the Low Countries and Germany and, through agents (including Goya), in Spain, for the Musee Napoleon in Paris. Many of these remain in the Louvre, and elsewhere in France, today. In particular, Denon was one of the very first men to appreciate the importance of the Italian 'primitives'. The majority of those now in the Louvre were looted by Denon during a sweep he made through Italy in 1812. They were publicly paraded, with elephants and other wild animals, like a Roman Triumph, through the streets of Paris, before being deposited in the Louvre. Denon took full opportunity, while working for Napoleon, to assemble for himself an enormous collection of paintings, drawings, prints, books, statuary and objets d'art. This collection was sold at auction over several days after Denon's death. Retirement After his forced retirement in 1814 he began an illustrated history of ancient and modern art, in which he had the cooperation of several skilful engravers. He died at Paris in 1825, leaving the work unfinished. It was published posthumously, with an explanatory text by Amaury Duval, under the title Monuments des arts du dessin chez les peuples tant anciens que modernes, recueillis par Vivant Denon in 1829. Denon was also the author of an erotic novel, Point de lendemain, published in 1777 (in 1812 as a separate work), and of a number of pornographic etchings. The influence of the rediscovery of Egypt in the Empire Style ...

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.