Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Empire Design


gallery ceiling design

Table flower stand

table set schematic

bedroom perspective

salon perspective view

bed chamber design

chandelier design

painting, frieze and vase designs

vase designs

cameo, chair and bedhead decorations

vase and frieze designs

gallery wall decals

wall decorations

ostentatious vase and chair designs

bed and table sketches

French architects Charles Percier (1764-1838) and Pierre François Léonard Fontaine (1762-1853) first met while attending the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris in the early 1780s. Their deep friendship and shared professional tastes were solidified during a subsequent three year sojourn at the French Academy in Rome, where they studied the design styles of classical antiquity.

Back in France they were appointed dual Set Directors for the Paris Opéra - close collaboration throughout their lives makes distinguishing individual contributions to their joint designs virtually impossible. During this period -- the mid-to-late-1790s -- the pair undertook private furniture and architectural design work which brought them to the attention of Josephine de Beauharnais, who engaged their services for the remodelling of the Château de Malmaison, near Paris. So, in turn, were Percier and Fontaine introduced to Josephine's husband, Napoleon, lately returned from a successful campaign in Egypt (introducing further stylistic elements to the pair's developing neoclassical design aesthetic) and busily endeavouring to install himself at the helm of the French government.

Napoleon hired Percier and Fontaine as his official architects and during the next fifteen years their design and redecoration assignments included the Louvre, Tuileries Palace, the Château de Saint-Cloud, palaces at Versailles, Strasbourg and Fountainebleau, the Rue de Rivoli and bridges across the Seine. Their most demonstrable legacy in architectural terms, is undoubtedly the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, in the forecourt of the Louvre, and modelled after the Roman Arch of Septimius Severus. The structure was built as a monument to Napoleon's victories and supports the notion that he sought a masculine and military design aesthetic which glorified his reign by association with ancient empires. As to the extent to which Napoleon hoped also to inspire a decorative movement in opposition to the rococo and baroque stylistic excesses favoured by the ousted Ancien Régime - that remains a matter for conjecture.

The interior designs of Percier and Fontaine were particularly influential -

"Their ideas were incorporated and propagated in their Recueil de Décorations Intérieures (1801 and 1812; “Collection of Interior Decoration”). The strong archaeological bias of the Empire style led to direct copying of classical types of furniture and accessories; to this was added a new repertory of Egyptian ornament, stimulated by Napoleon's campaigns in Egypt. Mahogany-veneered furniture with ormolu mounts assumed the shapes of Roman, Greek, and Egyptian chairs and tables with winged-lion supports and pilasters headed with sphinxes, busts, or palm leaves. Where no classical prototypes existed, contemporary designs were enlivened with ancient ornamental motifs, often with symbolic implications in reference to Napoleon's reign e.g., winged victory and the laurel wreath used as decorative symbols of triumph; bees, sheaves of grain, and cornucopias for prosperity; and fasces and sphinxes for conquest."

Building on the formal neoclassicism of the late eighteenth century and championed by Percier and Fontaine's successful pattern books, the Empire Style inspired local adaptations such as Greek and Egyptian revivals and the Regency, Biedermeier and late-Federal styles.

Roman building sketches

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