Replica of Napoleon’s Sword, Toledo Spain, 1809 by Biennais
Gilt brass hilt with rocaille motifs, helmet head and goddess of war.
Gilt brass cross guard with crowned imperial eagle; finials ending in lions’ heads.
Double-edged straight blade.
Top 1/3 of blade etched and blued, with martial motifs. No scabbard.
Napoleon’s Ceremonial Sword, made by Martin-Guillaume Biennais in 1809.
That find lead me to read about the Empire Style & Napoleon.
Found a really informative description from the traveling exhibit in the USA: SYMBOLS OF POWER.
(See link containing pictures bellow )
Exhibition itinerary was
Saint Louis Art Museum
June 17–September 16, 2007
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
October 21, 2007–January 27, 2008
Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris
April 2–October 5, 2008
Designer: Emily Lessard
© 2007 American Federation of Arts
American Federation of Arts
S Y M B O L S O F POWER
Napoleon and the Art of the Empire Style
Symbols of Power: Napoleon
and the Art of the Empire Style, 1800–
1815 provides a sumptuous visual overview of a remarkably sophisticated and
highly influential decorative style, as well as intriguing insight into the
political, social, and economic forces behind its development and evolution.
The eighteenth-century monarchy had found expression in the majestic
furnishings and ornamental designs of the decorative arts.
Napoleon began his reign as the first consul in late 1799 (becoming
the first emperor in 1804), soon after which he began to vigorously champion
the Empire style as the embodiment of the new French state.
Napoleon’s enthusiasm for elements of Greco-Roman design stemmed from his desire for
a style that communicated grandeur. As the exhibition shows, however, his
relationship with expressions of luxury was complex. Even as he promoted a
decorative program designed to dazzle the courts of Europe, he disdained
extravagant expenditures (partially due to the moral strictness of postrevolutionary France).
The most influential figures in the development of the Empire style
were Charles Percier and Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine, celebrated architects and designers who had studied in Rome. Percier and Fontaine
helped establish and disseminate the new decorative language with their very popular 1801
book Recueil de décorations intérieures (Anthology of Interior Decoration), which provided illustrated patterns for the forms, materials, colors, and textures that would come to
characterize the Empire style. In 1804, Napoleon appointed Percier and Fontaine as his
official architects and decorators. Typically
designing every element of a room to fit their
overall aesthetic, the two men attached immense
importance to the interrelationship of architectural
setting, furniture, and decoration. As presented
throughout the exhibition, their designs—carried
out in the palaces of the Louvre and the Tuileries,
the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, the Vendôme
Column, and the imperial chateaux of Versailles,
Malmaison, Compiègne, and Saint-Cloud—
together with the wide circulation of their Recueil de décorations intérieures
assured the spread of the “official” Empire style to the growing middle class
(albeit in a scaled-down and simpler form) and led to the Empire aesthetic
becoming the touchstone of early nineteenth-century French decorative arts.
Characterized by seemingly conflicting qualities of sobriety and
luxury, the Empire style became one of the grandest and most opulent in the
history of decorative arts. Under Napoleon’s direction and patronage,
designers and craftsmen of the period developed a new formal language for
decorative arts that fueled a renaissance of French artisans and industry.
Designs inspired by the simple, symmetrical, and at times austere lines of
ancient Rome and Greece were enlivened with bold and saturated colors
(including black), expensive and elaborately worked materials, and ornate
decoration that included animal and fantastical figures, as well as symbolic
references to Napoleon’s reign. Symbols of Power reveals Napoleon’s deep
understanding of the power of ancient symbols to legitimize and glorify his
rule. As can be seen in the exhibition, imperial emblems, as well as military and
triumphant symbols, are to be found on everything from his snuffbox to his
The exhibition includes a small number of works designed and
produced during and immediately following the revolution—the Directoire
(1795–99) and Consulate (1800–03) periods—to provide a context for the
evolution of decorative arts in France in the late eighteenth
and early nineteenth centuries and illustrate the hallmarks of
the emerging Empire style. As is demonstrated by the
juxtaposition of these earlier works with works from the
Empire period, the new moral rigor that emerged during the
revolution rejected the frivolous luxury of the late eighteenth
century, which had become directly associated with the
corrupt values and excesses of the Bourbon kings. In the
design of furniture, wallpapers, and cups and saucers, images
from the former monarchy, such as the fleur-de-lys, were
replaced with symbols of the new France, such as the cockade (a knot of ribbon
worn as a badge on hats or lapels), and patriotic phrases. The red, white, and
blue tricolor flag of independence, triumphant laurel branches, and the red
Phrygian cap of freedom (referring to the cap worn by Roman slaves after
they were freed) were some of the most common revolutionary symbols.
Elements of design were charged with meaning. By the end of the revolution,
the decorative arts in France would be characterized by a new simplicity in
the materials, shapes, and forms of objects as a mark of revolutionary ideals.
Napoleon appropriated emblems of power from the ancient cultures of
Egypt, Greece, and Rome in order to visually and conceptually link
his reign with those of grand civilizations of the past. Exemplifying this link
is Napoleon’s own stunning steel and chiseled brass cuirass, or ceremonial
breastplate (fig. 3). Made for him in 1805, just one year after he was crowned
emperor, the cuirass features an allegorical scene of Mars (the Roman
god of war) being dressed by two nude spirits. This exceptional piece not
only reflects Napoleon’s desire to associate himself with ancient Roman
emperors but also his own active role in the French military. Napoleon’s wish
to associate France under his rule with the civilization of ancient Rome is
also evident in the pervasive use of the Roman eagle, gods and goddesses of
mythology, and other architectural forms and symbols used by the
earliest Roman emperors. Napoleon admired the early Roman
leaders and identified with their pursuit of peace and order
through expansionist military policies.
Strong, masculine symbols reflecting
strength of France abound in the Empire style. The most prevalent of these were the emperor’s emblems: the Merovingian beeand the Roman eagle (fig. 2), representations of military trophies, and Egyptian themes introduced after his famous campaign in that country. Warriors in battle, the powerful claws of a lion, helmets, swords, and axes appear on everyday objects such as clocks, light fixtures, writing tables, and ewers and basins. The walls, windows, and beds of the palaces were draped with rich fabrics embroidered with gold and silver threads, bees, shields, and other imperial emblems. Included in this exhibition are several ornate and luxurious chairs and stools with imperial emblems from Château de Malmaison and Château de Fontainebleau.After the revolution, especially as a function of the victories underNapoleon’s leadership, the military was very much on the mind of French
society, and perhaps as a counterweight, feminine symbols and images were
juxtaposed with images of masculinity. This exhibition examines the
visual metaphors of femininity that were meant to evoke the ideas of love and
seduction—images of nudity, women in motion, the swan, the butterfly,
flowers, and cornucopia (fig. 4). The swan—an ambiguous symbol of
seduction, referring to both femininity and the god Apollo—was one of
the favorites adopted at this time by Josephine, as well as other wealthy and
cultured ladies (fig. 6). A departure from the straight line typically used in
Empire decorative arts, the curved lines found in objects such as the boat
bed (a bed with the curved shape of a boat reserved generally, though not
exclusively for women’s chambers) (fig. 5), was a clear allusion to femininity.
Another emblem was the letter J, paired with a cornucopia full of fruits and
flowers, which were incorporated into designs of furnishings and decorative
arts made specifically for Josephine.
Ornamentation was an essential and clear means of communication
under Napoleon’s empire. The Empire style embodied a design philosophy
that was driven by arts and politics. It sought to fuel and perpetuate the
regime’s strength and legitimacy through a united aesthetic that reinterpreted existing symbols of power. Its impact filtered into every aspect of life
through architecture, interior design, furnishings, and fashion. Even after
Napoleon’s final abdication in 1815, the Empire style continued and was
highly influential throughout Europe and
Egyptian expeditions lead to a new style Egyptian Revival.
Bonaparte Before the Sphinx 1867-1868 by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824–1904)
Great article with many pictures about French Egyptian Revival is found :