The Empire Style takes its name from the First French Empire period, beginning on May 18, 1804 when Napoléon Bonaparte was elected Emperor of the French. Taking cues from the preceding style known as Directoire, the Empire style is a Romantic style, seeking to capture the stoic values of ancient Rome. Unlike Directoire, however, which took its inspiration primarily from the Roman Republic, the Empire style drew from a later period and sought to emulate the opulence and splendor of Imperial Rome.
Furniture from the period displayed a strong influence from classical designs. Gilding and finely crafted ormolu were common decorative elements. Seating elements, especially chairs, took a step back from the comfortable designs of the late Monarchy and were instead used as a visual statement. Owing to Napoléon’s militaristic temperament, he also favored straight, rectilinear forms over the softer, flowing curves of Rococo. While the French Empire was ultimately short-lived, antiques in the Empire Style are still prized today for their unique neo-classical aesthetic, exquisite craftsmanship, and bold design.